Monday, 9 October 2017

Day 7: Should Australia adopt Japan's research project for year 11 students? Paula Taylor

I have had the pleasure of hosting Sony Science teachers in the past when they visited my classroom in Canberra a few years ago.  What I saw was an inquiry-based lesson where the Japanese host teachers had my students engaged in a STEM activity that allowed for them to change variables and make judgments based on their observations.  The lesson was so carefully constructed to incorporate the 5E’s that I still use it today with my own students.  So being selected to come to Japan with the help of Latitude Group Travel  was my chance to grow professionally once again.

One stark difference between Japanese and Australian schools is how they operate and organize their daily routines.  In general, Japanese schools are highly structured and organized.  There is a place to store your outside shoes, your wet umbrella, your bicycle helmet and your personal cleaning cloth.  But once the bell rings, the science class becomes an unstructured theatre, where a performance of wonder and awe is about to begin, being carefully orchestrated by their very qualified and inspiring teacher.

Our first classroom experience was at Kotehashidai Jr. High School in Chiba where we had the pleasure of observing a Science 9 Astronomy lesson.  I was introduced to “Mikata”, an impressive free software program developed by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ).  The teacher had a captive audience (including me) as we navigated the solar system and then beyond our galaxy using this interactive simulator.  Developing a sense of wonder and excitement with your students can only be achieved once you have forged a strong and positive relationship with your students.  This highly accomplished teacher, who has only recently won a Sony Prize, certainly had the affection of her students.  Upon reflection, it is easy to see that teaching science is an art form and this teacher was an artist. 

Our second classroom experience took us to Ichikawa Super Science High School, which is a selective school for over 2300 senior high school students.  This school had a long history of academic success, particularly in the sciences.  It was interesting to learn that students major in all 3 science subjects, which would ensure that there are no gaps in their learning from year to year.  

Students in year 11 are required to undergo an independent research project in science and we were fortunate to observe students perform their practical investigations whilst collecting data.  Their projects were highly advanced, perhaps equivalent to what one would expect from students achieving the Gold CREST award.  My favourite project was from a student who developed her own bioplastic, made from the crushed exoskeleton of shrimp.  She then proceeded to test its biodegradability properties which will be a longitudinal study. This school is highly committed to providing students with a wide range of science skills and knowledge so that they are adequately prepared for their post-secondary studies.  I appreciate how the school was actively collecting and comparing data to monitor their progress and success as a super science high school over the last 13 years.  From the data, it is clear that whatever they are doing is working for their highly successful students.

Our final visit was to University of Tsukuba High School which has 600 students in years 7 to 9.  Here I had the pleasure of observing the Head of Science teach a lesson on genetics and hereditary.  I wish I could have recorded this lesson to show all future science pre-service teachers as an exemplary lesson to strive toward.  Again, the teacher had a positive rapport with his students which provided a strong foundation to build a dynamic and engaging lesson.  The lesson modelled differentiation at its best, using multimedia to get the concepts across.  The teacher was using a constructivist approach to demonstrate the patterns of hereditary, which if executed properly, will ensure deeper understanding and critical thinking to occur.  Without a doubt, this teacher nailed it as students began to realize that the corn kernels on their ear of corn exhibited a colouration pattern in a 3 to 1 ratio.  The students had their “light bulb” moment and discovered an important concept through a well-designed activity.  I will be sure to use this activity in my future lessons.  I was certainly inspired and amazed by all the new concepts that I had learned in a short 50 minute lesson.  

With my school visits now over, I will reflect on one significant but crucial difference between our two systems which is the belief and support in a socialist view of education.  Public schools are the norm in Japan which means that all students are valued and are given the same right and opportunity to succeed.  The government ensures that there is equity among its many schools spread across this island nation.  Teaching resources and highly qualified teachers are equally distributed across all schools.  With a 97% high school completion rate, using a common and rigorous curriculum, all Japanese citizens can be assured that they have an educated workforce.

I am very humbled to have been part of this delegation to witness that every Japanese child is given every chance to succeed, every day and everywhere.  Thank you to all the Japanese hosts for giving me the opportunity to improve my teaching practice and to watch you perform your magic in your classrooms.


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