“A great teacher has a passion for learning, patience, and empathy.”
Invited by Fundación Chile (Chile Foundation) to participate in a STEM education seminar (STEM integrates science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the school curriculum), American education expert Timothy Spuck, the head of STEM education development for Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), was in Chile last week.
“For a long time, we’ve treated learning in schools as if students were on an assembly line. We would add a piece, and then the student would move to the next classroom where we would add another piece, and the student would move on, and so on. This works when you are building things, but does not work for developing people, humans. When we treat young students as things, we cause them harm,” said the education expert, Spuck, who was an Earth and Space Science teacher for 25 years at the Oil City High School in Pennsylvania.
—What is the importance of science in education?
—Science in education is very important because it is a way to understand the universe, based on evidence, and grounded in observation and data collection. Science is a means of understanding the universe in a fuller and deeper way. If our politicians based their decisions using a more scientific process, society could be a little better.
—What characteristics should teachers have to best teach their students?
—There is a debate around the issue of whether great teachers are born or made, and the answer is probably both. The qualities of a great teacher are a passion for learning, patience and being able to be empathetic, put themselves in the shoes of their students to understand what is happening to them, what is important for them and to have the skills to relate learning to their interests. Also, great teachers are explorers. They feel comfortable telling students “I’m not sure,” or “I don’t know the answer, but we can perhaps find out using other ways, or maybe talking to such and such a person.” The teacher is willing to model the learning process. What I always say to my two children: “You do not need to be like me, I do not want you to be an astronomer unless you have a passion for it. I want you to do what you can do for 12 hours a day, for a week, and then you come back the next week and want to do it again. And if you achieve that, you have found your passion.” The other thing that excellent educators do is help students find their passion.
—-How important is the number of children per classroom? Here in Chile, it is normal to have 45 students in each class.
—It varies. There is research that suggests classroom size does not matter, but the issue of classroom size is more relevant and important in situations where you have students with considerable needs. In schools where there are disadvantaged children, the size of the classes can have an impact. But it also depends on what we mean by success. How do we define whether a school is doing well or not? If we judge by the test scores, that is only one measure. There are other things that we should consider when measuring success.
—Examining what jobs the children are getting after they leave school, whether or not they go to college, and if they do well in college. There are also other measures of success: is the student able to collaborate with others, is he or she responsible in his/her job, arrives on time, is able to problem solve or knows how to think critically.
—So, international tests of education like PISA would fall into this simplification
—International tests are only one measure. You could have a student who performs poorly on the PISA test, but is able to create an incredible piece of art, or complete an incredible project for his or her community. Are we going to tell a student that he or she is not successful, or that he or she does not understand how to be a contributing member of society because of poor performance on a test? No. The international measures, and national measures, are a one piece of evidence, an element of information. A good scientist does not make a claim considering only partial evidence, and that same line of thought should apply to the field of education.
Translation by Bernice Montero.