Fulbright experience benefits teachers

Issue: Volume 98, Number 19

Posted: 8 November 2019
Reference #: 1HA26s

A New Zealand teacher made some interesting observations on cross-curricular, project-based learning in the US as part of her Fulbright Award.

Hutt Valley teacher Dianne Christenson is no stranger to awards. She won a Royal Society award in 2015, the Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize in 2016 and a Fulbright Award in 2018.

Dianne is lead teacher for science at Koraunui Primary School in Stokes Valley and teaches a Year 3–5 class.

“Children love science – especially when we can make it hands-on and relevant and encourage them to bring their knowledge and culture to the science. Every student has their own legitimate way to make sense of the natural world,” she says.

The Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Programme took Dianne to Syracuse University in the US for five months earlier this year, where she explored cross-curricular project-based learning for literacy acquisition in multicultural classrooms. 

Literacy in science focuses on the literacy skills needed for science communication and understanding. “I studied literacy skills and sense-making (LSSM) in science teaching, which suggests hands-on investigations where students make meaning from their own scientific explorations instead of the memorisation of a series of facts,” she reported. 

Cross-curricular opportunities

Using science as the context to teach literacy skills enables teachers to create cross-curricular opportunities – and create valuable teaching space within a crowded curriculum. 

The placement at Syracuse University introduced Dianne to new concepts in teaching science and writing and she was able to work with a fellow Fulbright recipient, Ranielle Miranda-Navarro from the Philippines.

Their partnership resulted in a website they produced with professional development modules for Literacy Skills and Sense-making in Science Teaching.

“Our placement at Syracuse University has introduced us to new concepts in teaching both science and writing. Through this website we seek to share our emerging understanding of these teaching methods with our peers. We have limited our focus to the growth of scientific understanding and improved competency in literacy,” they wrote.

Ambitious Science framework

Dianne says that Ambitious Science is a science teaching framework she learnt about which emphasises project-based learning and provides a way to scaffold writing about science while looking at big science ideas to engage children.

“In our classroom, we started to develop a model. We do an experiment and we talk about the kids’ ideas; you put up everybody’s ideas, which builds equity as everybody feels their ideas are valued. 

“Then you move on to do additional experiments that are going to draw out the things you want to learn. It builds vocabulary and oral language brilliantly – it’s about integration – linking reading and writing with science,” she says.

An academic writing course helped Dianne develop proficiency in broadening the use of curriculum as a basis for advancing literacy skills in her students. 

“This course developed my understanding of the range of learning needs and gave me many opportunities to design learning activities with adaptations to meet these needs. One assignment was to develop a unit of learning for the wider classroom, but specifically targeting the needs of the diverse learners in the room. 

“I was able to access the individual education plans for the students who would be in my class on my return to school and really focus on my methods of teaching, adapting my teaching and implementing my understanding of UDL (Universal Design for learning),” she says.

Insights and affirmations

Dianne describes her time spent in the US as ‘an unbelievable experience’. She gained insights into a different education system and affirmed her own beliefs about what is valuable in education and what is not.

“I visited three schools where their complete learning was based on locally based projects. It was so different from what many schools do in New Zealand. Everything from maths to digital technology to writing was focused on the one project such as ‘Heroes in our community’. 

“I strongly agree with project-based learning. But I didn’t like the phenomenal focus on testing I saw. We need to know where our kids are so we can teach them better, but the level of testing in a couple of the schools I saw was phenomenal,” she says.

Fulbright teachers 2019 

The recipients of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Programme for 2019 will travel to the US in January 2020, where they will participate in a four-month professional development programme, which includes academic coursework, leadership training and opportunities to observe, co-teach, and share their expertise in US schools.  

The 2019 award recipients are:

Michelle Ballard, Deputy Principal at Mount Maunganui College, is going to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). She plans to research the creation of a senior project-based course using a design-thinking framework, in which students build future-focused capabilities alongside their NCEA record of achievement.

Dr Susan Peoples, Head of Social Sciences at Fiordland College, is going to Syracuse University, located in Syracuse, New York. She plans to research how to develop and implement school-based environmental programmes of learning.

Fulbright Awards 2020

Applications for the 2020 Awards close on 15 March 2020.
For more information, see the Fulbright(external link) website for details. 

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:43 am, 8 November 2019

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