by Kate: Yesterday was the last day that we were in schools and I feel like we have established a real connection with the teachers and students that hopefully will continue after we are home. I think that the initial reactions and assumptions by the schools when we came to them was that we were here to critique and fix the teaching styles of the teachers and were somehow here to evaluate them. This idea quickly went away when we started to present our games and science engineering activities as it became known that we were actually here to collaborate and learn from Georgians as well as having them learn from us.
There have been many social and personal skills that the Georgian teachers incorporate into their lessons that are just as important as the content that the children are learning. I have seen the teachers instill respect for classmates and for learning in their students. Even with the language barrier I could see how engaged the students were in all of the classrooms that we visited. Also, there were very few discipline problems because all of the students were so interested in what they were learning that they simply wanted to be in school and wanted to learn. I hope to bring this enthusiasm for learning to my classroom someday and inspire kids to learn at the same level as these Georgian teachers.
The emotional support that the schools give to their students is something that I really have enjoyed. Through observing and conversing with teachers and principals on their philosophies, we have gathered that they treat all of their students as family, and this attitude makes for an atmosphere that allows all of the students to focus on their education. The school gives emotional support to their students and allows things such as hugs from teachers and positive feedback that let the students feel safe and comfortable at school so that they can focus on their studies. I really liked the philosophy that the schools have when it came to the student’s relationship with their school. They strive for a connected school and believe that this connectedness provides a superior atmosphere for learning. It would be interesting if we could incorporate student support in this way in the U.S.
In relation to the answers I was looking for when we came here two weeks ago, I feel like I have learned a lot about the type of science learning that is in place in Georgian schools. Integrated science lessons occur in the primary grades that focus on gaining basic science knowledge that will prepare students for later science classes and eventually the national exams that they take at the end of high school. The type of science classes seem to vary between schools, however, overall I can see one clear difference between the science taught in Georgia and the science lessons taught at home. The science lessons taught here are taught in a way that relates science to everyday life. The nature classrooms that I observed focused on hygiene and recycling, two different topics that in the U.S. we also teach. However, here there was a stronger sense that the reason the students were studying these topics was to develop knowledge that would help them in their lives. This is different than how a lot of schools in the U.S. teach science as we often give a broad overview of scientific concepts without always connecting them to the importance they have in our everyday lives. This connected teaching is something that I hope to incorporate in my future teaching as well.
Overall I am very thankful and proud after completing our work here. I think that we have achieved our goals of collaboration as well as really seen and experienced many things that are unique to Georgian culture. I am thankful that I was able to experience these and was given the opportunity to make relationships and learn new ideas from many effective educators.
Below are some pictures from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade classrooms that we visited at Lepl 1st Experimental School. Click on the pictures to read the captions that explain each one.
by Carolyn: Yesterday was our third day in elementary schools in Georgia and our first day in the First Experimental in Tbilisi. We spent the day with second, third, and fourth graders. We taught second and third graders how to play a math game based on logic and two classes of fourth graders worked on engineering and testing windmill designs. We also had the opportunity to visit a third grade English class. They were very enthusiastic and excited to sing a few songs in English for us, which was a surprising treat! My cheeks ached from smiling so much. For the windmills, students were very good at improving on their initial designs if they didn’t work. Students were very interested in who could make the windmill that could spin the fastest and definitely had a friendly, competitive spirit. For the logic game, students collaborated in small groups to complete challenging puzzles. We spent time walking around and checking their solutions to the puzzles and there were times where we had difficulty spotting the correct solutions. The students in the classrooms for both the logic game and the windmill engineering lesson did great despite the language barrier and worked very diligently to solve logic puzzles and design successful windmills. It was really enlightening to realize that even though we spoke different languages we were still learning together and building connections.
My research focus for this trip is on students with special needs and use of student thinking in instruction. While instruction for students with special needs is built into Georgia’s national curriculum, it was difficult to see in practice. 90% of students identified with special needs are integrated into general education classrooms. In some of the classrooms, it appeared to us that some students were at a lower level than others, but I couldn’t determine if this was due to a disability or not. For one such student, I did notice the use of preferential seating near the teacher’s desk, which can be used for certain students in American schools as well. Struggling students received extra one-on-one time both from us and from their Georgian classroom teachers.
Evidence of student thinking in instruction was very interesting to observe. It seems that Georgia’s national curriculum is heavily based on practical applications for what is being taught which when implemented often appeared as real life, relatable situations for students. In the First Experimental School we were able to observe some of their math work on the blackboard. Even versus odd numbers were taught using street numbers on houses, something students see in everyday life. Area and perimeter were displayed using a gardening plot and family gardens also seem common in Tbilisi and something familiar to children. Math was made more approachable by using situations accessible to children.
At Buckswood International School, student thinking was very evident in instruction as well. While the math class we observed was primarily review, the nature classes we observed provided many opportunities for us to observe student thinking in instruction. The teacher used a semantic web and asked leading questions to students to help fill in the semantic web. It seemed like the teacher was never inserting her own thoughts into instruction, but rather letting students guide the class discussion. The students were consistently engaged and every single student participated in answering questions and discussing the topic at hand.
In both schools we have been in, the students and teachers both have been passionate and enthusiastic about their schools and education as well as welcoming and informative for us. This has been a truly wonderful experience so far and I am very excited to observe more in classrooms at the First Experimental today. I have learned so much about myself through this experience and I hope to foster the same sense of delight in learning found in both schools in my future classroom!
by Sarah: Yesterday was our second day in Buckswood School and it was our turn to conduct the lessons. We began the day in a 4th grade classroom where Niki, Kate, and Sarah incorporated a familiar and relevant topic, windmills. The students' goal was to choose the shape and number of blades to create a successful windmill. The students were very excited to complete the project and were able to do so successfully. After this we went into a first grade classroom. The students were curious and friendly, asking us many questions. We showed them pictures of Mrs. Holt's first grade classroom from the U.S and found that it was very similar to their own classroom. They were ecstatic when we asked them to help us find interesting things in their classroom to show to the first graders in the U.S classroom. Our next lesson, conducted by Polina, was with a 6th grade math class using games. The students played a logic game, and a game called Equalibrio. They loved the challenge of the games and many of them took it as a race to see who could finish first. Next we visited a 5th grade class and conducted the engineering windmill lesson again. These students were very on task and excited about the project. We had many successful windmills and much enthusiasm as each group watched their windmill begin to work. We were impressed with how fast most of their windmills were able to spin. We concluded our day in a preschool classroom. Gary showed the children pictures of Mrs. Kunkle's kindergarten classroom, and gave them a coloring sheet of the American flag. The preschoolers were very friendly and eager to talk to us.
My concentration on this trip was the use of technology in the classrooms. I found that while some classes made use of technology, others did not have any. In the science lab, there was a computer monitor on the wall where presentations were shown. In the math classroom, a board similar to our smart boards was used to conduct lessons. I found this board interesting because it has a special pen that did all the work. The projector displayed the screen on a normal chalk board, but the pen had a sensor that detected each motion. In the preschool room was another computer monitor used as a source of learning. Many of the students were using cellphones in the hallways, and one preschooler even pulled one out of his pocket showing us all of his games. Although technology was not always used in the classroom, the students still seemed very knowledgable about it.
by Gary: Today I had my first experience in a Georgian classroom. We visited Buckswood School for the day, attending a grade 4, 5, and 6 Nature (what they call science) class, and a grade 6 math class. It was total immersion as the class was instructed in Georgian. The teacher, however, keeping with the theme of true Georgian hospitality, tailored her lesson to make it familiar mathematically even if the language barrier became a struggle. A review of Geometry was the topic of discussion to allow us the visuals necessary to follow along, and we were provided with a fluent English speaking high school student to fill in any blanks.
Keeping within the topics of my research, I was first to note the use of materials and/or manipulatives to assist in the lesson. The students had supplied their own cut outs of geometric shapes to assist with the lesson and the room we were in was complete with a version of a smart board that I hadn’t seen before. The projector simply displayed to the wall and the stylus did all the work from there. The teacher was highly proficient with the use of this technology and the students had no difficulty during their turns with it either.
Productive struggle was the other focus of my research and observations and turned out to be a great choice. The teacher took the part more as a moderator while the students eagerly and aggressively assisted each other to come up with answers and equations to solve problems. When prompted to answer directly, hands were raised and the students would stand as they addressed the teacher with their responses. They were engaged and focused.
The manner in which these students were participating was for themselves and not merely for recognition or praise. That type of feedback was not offered. They behaved like intellectuals in solving problems in a manner that seemed far beyond their age.
I was impressed. This is a perfect model of how I wish for my future classrooms to run.
Midway through the day we were treated to the same school lunch in the dining hall that all of their students had that day: buckwheat, sausage (which looked like a hot dog!), vegetable soup, honey rolls, and strawberry juice. Their school lunches are homemade each day by the kitchen staff, complete with a baker and separate brick building that is the bakery.
Today we visited with the principals of the two schools we will be working in all next week. The first school is just a 10 minute walk from our apartments, in the heart of Tbilisi. It is the Lepl Experimental School. It houses about 2,600 students from grades 1-12. (We were not able to take pictures of this school yet. Stay tuned next week for those.) The students walk to school because they live in the surrounding neighborhoods. We learned that at this school the 1st graders had already finished school for the summer, and that the second graders had recently moved up to third grade. We met several of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade teachers who were excited to have us bring some math and science to their students next week.
We also visited the Buckswood International School. This school is located about a 20 minute drive from Tbilisi, in the hills surrounding the city. The students take buses to and from this school. It houses just 500 students in grades preK-12. We saw several classrooms, including a science lab pictured here. The elementary students at this school take some interesting classes, including one called Nature where they learn about their surrounding environment, and Logic, which includes learning the game of chess!
We had our first education-related meeting on Monday, with Natia (far left in picture), Head of National Curriculum Department at the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia (pic below). She was excited about our anticipated STEM work and has helped us set up meetings with two schools in Tbilisi. Here is some of what we learned about education in Georgia:
We'd like to thank the young followers of our blog. They come from Mrs. Holt's first grade class in Raynham, MA, and Mrs. Kunkle's kindergarten class in Plymouth, MA. Mrs. Holt's class put together a slide show of what their classroom looks like for Mrs. Glen to show the Georgian students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDnCJc4sbo0. Mrs. Kunkle's class learned about the location and flag of Georgia from Mr. Parmenter, one of the BSU students on the trip.