By Chris Bavender
For 10 days in October, Boone Meadow Elementary teacher Kara Benson traveled around China as part of the international STEM Fellowship program. The mission: exchange ideas and expertise with Chinese educators about STEM education.
“We wanted to see what successful techniques and methods they use to teach science and math to their students” Benson said. “We hoped to bring back ideas for ways we could improve the learning of math and science by Indiana students.”
STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It integrates the four disciplines and requires “creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.”
As a STEM teacher, Benson works with kindergarten through fourth-grade students in a weekly class.
“I cover some of the grade level science standards, but I also teach coding, robotics and lead children through engineering challenges that incorporate other science areas as well. As a STEM coach, I work alongside teachers to enhance their science and math instruction,” she said. “I do this by providing job-embedded professional development, co-planning science units and lessons, modelling lessons in classrooms and co-teaching as well. I help teachers find science materials and supplies and assist them in reaching their instructional goals.”
During her time in China, Benson spent one week at the Maiyuqiao Primary School in Hangzhou.
“In the school, we were treated like royalty by our hosts. We observed math and science lessons daily, taught lessons, spoke with journalists and participated in educational round table discussions with fellow educators,” Benson said. “These discussions were some of the most important work we did because we learned from each other while discussing our goals, our methods and the educational framework in which we all operate. Most importantly, we were able to build relationships that will lead to future international exchanges.”
Although Benson said she didn’t come home with specific teaching strategies to use in her classroom, she did learn “some interesting things.”
“First, I have a broader view of international education. Next, I renewed my appreciation for peer coaching and teammates working together to learn from each other and to help each other improve,” she said. “The Chinese teachers I worked with take one afternoon each week to observe each other’s teaching and then debrief the lesson in a seminar setting where they reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson and make suggestions for improvement. Finally, I saw how Chinese primary teachers were experts in the specific field they teach. Chinese teachers specialize in one individual subject rather than teaching all subjects.”
Because Benson’s STEM Fellowship was the pioneer group, what they learned on the trip will be used to shape future trips to China with Indiana educators and possibly educators from other states. The fellows also submitted a proposal for a summer STEM camp that would involve fifth- and sixth-grade Chinese students traveling to Indiana.
While Benson said it’s too early to truly say how her work at Boone Meadow has been impacted by this trip, she does believe her work at the school will not only benefit from her experience in China this year, but down the road.
“Growing as a professional and learning from other educators at home and on the other side of the world can only make me a richer person with a broader, more layered and realistic perspective of teaching, learning and what is best for students,” she said. “I look forward to finding more ways I can bring those experiences and educational learning to bear on my current practice.”