REPORT #110 Sept 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Going to use another comparison story here, to draw ideas from. There are always articles in the American press for the USA about how poorly American kids do against those of other countries. The Faculty of Glenbrook North High School, in the State of Illinois got fed up reading about these things. They wanted to put their students against the rest of the world and see if it was true. They just didn't know who gave these tests and which kids were being tested anyway. So they set out to find out. In 1995 American Seniors in High School were the lowest ranked among worldwide students in mathematics and Science. This test was the Third International Math and Science Study, or( TIMSS ). The tests were run by the USA Department of Education and the National Science Foundation against 41 other countries. They used three different grade levels.

When the Glenbrook High School faculty found out what was going on, they decided to do something about it. They formed a consortium in the State to prove that USA education was better. They persuaded the TIMSS test people to treat the State consortium of schools as an independent country, separate from the Department of Education picked schools for the USA. They took the test as an independent country, within the country of the USA.

They then beat out every nation in the world in advanced mathematics. Even in general knowledge tests- for kids who are not even enrolled in advanced science classes the Consortium of schools in the State of Illinois tied for FIRST PLACE. You might say they prepared for it. You might say a lot of things. But the facts are, that out of all the schools in the Consortium, only one, a private Academy had any sort of entrance exam requirement. These were ordinary students across all strata of society. When the students were asked about it, they said they had never been prepared. They were just told this was a comparison test to see how they were doing against other schools.

So what is this ordinary bunch of schools doing in the State of Illinois, that other places are not doing and how can we copy the ideas and methods to Belize?

It would seem, that what is classical education, has to be lowered to lower grades. Hands on Science and Algebra for instance have to be lowered to our Belizean Standard 4, 5 and 6. No more waiting for High School. Elementary school is where they start learning this stuff.

It would seem we need District School Boards and Elementary School Associations for each Belizean district. Then another National Association to link the districts together. It is in the regular discussion groups of elementary teachers, teaching mathematics, algebra and hands on science, that the idea factories, enthusiasm and experiences among teachers are shared. Teachers learn from each other, on what is working and what is not working. By using this method, most students completing Standard 6 in Belize should know Algebra. And not have to wait for High School. The statistics currently show 66% of the Belizean population will never get to High School anyway and 50% of them will never finish Standard 6. It makes sense, these lessons from this Illinois Consortium.

Nationwide the idea of Belizean workshops and seminars is difficult to arrange, because of travel time, expense and difficulties. But at the local district level, it could more frequently be arranged on a quarterly basis, or each semester.

Another lesson from the consortium is to get all the teachers involved in teaching math and science with practical work. The consortium found at the high school level, over 80% of their students were taking physics classes, because they were interesting and fun. Students were motivated. But nationwide in the USA, only 20% of the students were doing so.

The other successful motivation was parent involvment. Teachers went out of their way to bring parents to school events. >From games and sports of different kinds, to contests and other things. When parents had "expectations", then the students found they also had expectations and academic success. This is human energy at work.

Kids in Glenbrook are notable, because they are excited about Science Class. Even those from poverty homes, single parent families and the project welfare housing. Yet they beat the world, all 41 countries! In a physics class, students were trying to calculate the forces acting on a pendulum. I remember my physics teacher asking for volunteers in his class with the pendulum when I was in High School in Canada. He took this heavy brass ball on a string and hooked it to an eye hook on the ceiling. Then he let it swing. Next he placed a glass beaker on a pile of books on a desk and let the pendulum swing and heavy brass ball hit it. The beaker shattered in pieces. THEN, he asked for a volunteer. He had the volunteer student stand against the wall and placed the heavy brass ball against her chin. Then asked her not to move an inch. No matter what might happen. A couple of volunteers chickened out and finally one stood there against the wall. Then he let the heavy brass ball swing across the room to the other wall far away. We all watched in awe as it came back, to that students face. The student closed his eyes, but stood still under heavy threat from the teacher. The ball stopped the swing a hairs breadth from his chin and face, and went back again. Each time a little lower. I still remember that pendulum lesson to this day and I'm 62 years old.

At Glenbrook High, down the hall, students in the astronomy class were fixed on computer screens. One student explained they were taking a virtual tour of the Sun. In another science class, students were told to inject six syringes of paint, or food coloring into a box, that might have been in zero gravity. One actually was used on a space shuttle, this stuff is on the internet. The teacher explained the kids are learning practical fluid dynamics. There is no practical application of this stuff, but the lessons are vital for kids for tomorrow.

The idea is to put kids into situations where they have to create their own understanding. And that is science in a nutshell.

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL at the District Level, that is where the future of Belize lies in Education today.

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