Chinese Educators Learn About STEM

March 20, 2019

Twenty-three Chinese educators traveled halfway around the world to learn about science and technology education at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES.

The educators took part in a workshop Monday led by David Jacob, BOCES’ regional science coordinator, and Harry Rosvally, science curriculum and staff development specialist, on how to deliver student-driven science instruction. It was followed Tuesday by a visit to Primrose Elementary School in Somers where the educators observed second-graders engaged in hands-on, inquiry-based learning using BOCES’ Science 21 program.
The visit was part of a cultural exchange initiative by PNW BOCES aimed at creating opportunities for Chinese students to study in the United States, for students in the region to learn more about Chinese culture and language and for Chinese and American educators to share ideas. The Chinese delegation was led by Professor Benya Wei, of Jiangsu Normal University, with educators coming from Taizhou, Jiangsu.

“It makes sense for us to share best practices and create opportunities for students and educators to connect,” said District Superintendent Dr. James Ryan. “We were very honored to host our Chinese counterparts on a trip that also included visits to Harvard, Boston, and Columbia universities.”

During Monday’s professional development workshop, the educators took part in a lesson on the physics of spinning tops. They were divided into three groups. One group was instructed in the traditional way with the teacher directing the action and dictating the outcome, while the other two allowed for increasing levels of student exploration, self-direction and decision making.

The following day, they visited Primrose Elementary and observed second graders engaged in a lesson on landforms. Students were put in small groups and charged with building islands out of clay that featured as many landforms as possible such as valleys, mountains and plateaus.

Huazhong Sha, a principal of an elementary school in China, said he was “inspired by the training the teachers received,” which he said was quite different from teacher training in his homeland.  He said China is moving in the direction of more hands-on learning but is challenged by typical class sizes of 60 students.

Aifang Gu, a vice principal in an elementary school, said she was impressed with how engaged the students were. However, given the size of classes in China, Gu said, the best method might be a blending of “east and west” approaches that would give students the chance to work in groups and plan but still have a leader for the activity. 

In Somers, the visiting educators were welcomed by Superintendent Dr. Raymond Blanch and heard from science teachers and leaders at the middle school and high school levels who explained how inquiry-based, student-driven learning continues in the upper grades.

Julie Gherardi, Somers assistant superintendent for learning, told the visitors that in Somers, “science is both hands on and minds on” as students “build their skills in scientific practices and develop conceptual understandings as they progress through the grades.”

The presentation impressed the educators, one of whom said the approach clearly led students to “own their own learning.”