The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Programme is for highly accomplished New Zealand teachers in primary or secondary schooling to participate in an intensive professional development programme in the US. Two awards are granted each year for this four month programme.
Su Mukund is Papatoetoe High School Head of Biology and Coordinator for Gifted and Talented Education. She researched Innovative Best Practices in Science Teaching and Professional Development of Science Teachers. Read Su’s advice to future applicants here.
The research project
My project was titled ‘Making Learning REAL: Retaining and Engaging ALL Learners in Secondary Science Classrooms, observing a wide variety of methods and curricula in science teaching. It included examining data, both qualitative and quantitative from the research project carried out in the fall semester extending between August to November 2014 in the state of Indiana at Bloomington North High School.
The project was modified after discussions with the academic supervisor and narrowed down to an explicit focus of reporting on 3 specific pedagogical strategies being used in public schools, magnet schools and charter schools where observations and discussions were possible.
These innovative best practices and curricula were used to engage learners using hands on activities in collaborative and cooperative authentic scenarios. They were all aimed at promoting critical thinking skills enabling learners to make choices towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) related courses and careers in college.
As I had refined my thoughts in New Zealand prior to my interview to pursue ideas leading to STEM, the discussions and opportunities provided in Indiana suited my project perfectly well. It was not possible to collect first hand quantitative data due to the short time frame, so data collected was from previous researchers, educators and organisations. Organisations and several interviews with Chief Executives, writers and educators were examined to supplement and endorse the findings of my qualitative data.
I was indeed fortunate to specifically look at some innovative curriculum delivery and teaching practices / approaches in Bloomington North High School that imparts the Project Lead The Way (PLTW) curriculum in Biological Sciences. This programme includes STEM Science courses in Biology at 4 levels beginning with the foundation course of PBS-Principles of Biomedical Sciences leading to HBS-Human Body Systems, MI-Medical Interventions and BI-Biological Innovations. Apart from classroom observations and learning conversations with students and educators I was fortunate to interview the CEO of the PLTW organisation, Dr Vince Bertram and attend the National PLTW summit on a special invitation through his courtesy and listen to some of the U.S. leading speakers including Steve Forbes of the Forbes Media. I was also privy to attend the Master Teachers meeting as a special invitee and get an understanding on how the curriculum is written and delivered. I was also fortunate to attend a workshop that explained how PLTW professional Development is carried out in 3 specific stages for teachers who need certification to teach the course.
The professional development itself is spread over 3 phases that comprise the following:
The New Tech Schools in the State of Indiana follow the Problem Based Learning where the curriculum is designed on the lines of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) that allows the State Standards to be aligned to projects and students are taught the content largely through collaboration and group discussions through a specific project. Hands on experience allow students to gain authentic experience from real life projects that had been carefully crafted with a clear end product in mind. The driving questions leading to the project are open ended, challenging, provocative, getting to the heart of a discipline or topic related to real world dilemmas that students find interesting. This is discussed in detail with exemplars on my capstone project.
Socially I was able to meet a large number of Americans through the Bloomington World Wide Friendship association and take part in picnics, social gatherings as well as attend performing arts activities including a wide range of ballets, operas, musicals, orchestra performances and plays. It was interesting to share NZ’s wide variety of activities and stories with the American hosts. It was indeed fun to explain some of our Kiwi colloquialisms including phrases like “the Dean of Science shouted our drinks” and “we are gobsmacked” with some of your events.
I was very fortunate to attend the Native American Powwow which appealed to me tremendously as we had the rare opportunity to see the various indigenous performers including the “Battle River Singers, ” “The Wisconsin Dells” and “The Ho Chunk Station” showcasing their culture during the grand entry. The various hues and pulsating movements of the competing dancers made a resonating impact in the hall with the huge audience and will be remembered in years to come. The feeling could be well compared to the Maori kapa hakka and Pasifica performances in New Zealand. This was one of the major highlights for me during my stay in the U.S.
I would have to say that the settling in was very smooth and exciting! We were taken to the local “Target Supermarket” that houses everything under one roof. As apartment mates in each flat, we were given a credit card loaded with our settling in finances, provided a basic list of things we would need to buy for ourselves, given a generous time allowance to do our shopping and then driven back to our apartments in an afternoon.
It was indeed fun adding to our list what we thought we might need and shopping with lightning speed to set up a brand new home away from home with another Fulbright teacher from Sinagapore. This was followed with precision clockwork over the next few days where we were driven around to have our bank accounts opened, social security papers organised, library cards made, medical insurance papers completed, bus passes and ID cards issued and taken around the campus to familiarise ourselves with the geography of the campus and surroundings. The personal value of my Award was very worthwhile.
Having returned from the USA I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to put in a proposal for a Fulbright Alumni Grant. I was successful with the same and had US $5000 granted to my school. Using this money I was able to put into practice a Problem Based Learning Project titled “From STEM to stem we grow.” This project enabled our year 9 students to work through a scenario on how they could grow plants in a limited amount of space. The final product involved creating a colourful Tyre garden, a vertical garden and a Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) glasshouse that is presently being used to grow plants by hydroponics. The work done by my students were used in a power point presentation in the 2015 Washington DC Orientation programme for the Fulbright International teachers.