Galapagos Reflections: Education in the Islands

May 19, 2016

By Brittany Lenhart, graduate student in International Education at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The following is a description of my experience participating in a 5-day professional development Institute for Galapagos teachers — the first event associated with the Education for Sustainability in Galapagos Program.

You may not be surprised to read that upon reflection, I consider this experience to have been a gem, a precious occurrence. Why? Well, I am nearing the end of a graduate degree in International Education at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. What better way to culminate this degree, I thought to myself four months ago, than to join an international education project? To this end, Teachers2Teachers-International and Galapagos Conservancy agreed to my involvement as an intern with the educator workshops that took place in Santa Cruz in mid-April.

If you want to get a sense of what was accomplished on Santa Cruz during the Institute, context is crucial. Historically, most local teachers have been trained in the methodologies of rote memorization and repetition, and there is little emphasis on independent thought, active learning, or new approaches based on how young people learn. In this sense, the Archipelago’s isolation presents a challenge, as it complicates national teacher training and professional development programs. It makes it more difficult for teachers to develop professionally, and to build on their expertise, and to develop new ways to train students in critical thinking skills, creativity, and problem solving.

Teachers learning in Galapagos.

On Monday morning on the first day of the project, 15 math and science trainers, all of the elementary teachers from Santa Cruz (approximately 80 teachers), and all of the middle school and high school math and science teachers in Galapagos (about 70 teachers) met in Puerto Ayora for the official kick-off of the event. The energy in the auditorium was high. It was exhilarating for teachers and trainers to see one another for the first time. After a brief orientation, introductions of the math and science teams, and a pre-workshop survey for the Galapagos teachers to complete, teachers and trainers headed out to three separate training sites.

Part of the excitement was due to the fact that the US-based trainers had spent months preparing for these workshops, while the Ecuadorian teachers had been waiting for years, in many cases, for a chance to develop new skills. Over the next five days it was my pleasure to assist a number of presenters in the delivery of multiple workshops.

The first training I assisted was led by Tim Erickson and Chadd McGlone, who prompted the participating high school mathematics teachers to ask themselves, “What memories do you have of learning math in school? Is math something you do alone, or together?” The trainers pointed out that in the world today, collaboration is found everywhere. Thus, students will benefit from developing collaborative skills early on as they learn mathematics.

During the opening activity, each teacher received a problem to solve by asking their team for help. However, the instructions stipulated that they could not show others the actual problem; they had to explain it in their own words. When one group finished early, Tim or Chadd met with the teachers and talked about strategies to encourage students to help each other to learn. I remember hearing Tim offer this suggestion to the group: “As the teacher, I can walk around the room and see what groups are using what strategies. This way, I don’t need to explain every strategy; I can ask a student to show another group the strategy they came up with. Students may benefit more from hearing the explanation from a fellow student.” The conversations afterwards focused on strategies for collaboration in each teacher’s classroom.

Teachers learning through basketball

Throughout the next four days the Ecuadorian teachers engaged in the workshops wholeheartedly, offering their perspectives and knowledge, asking questions, and experimenting with new teaching and learning tools.  By the close of the workshops on Friday afternoon, strong bonds had formed between the trainers, between the Galapagos teachers, and between the teachers and the training team.

The week came to a close during a final gathering of all the teachers and trainers in the same auditorium that was used for the Monday morning orientation. I heard many teachers offer invitations to the trainers to return to continue their work together. I feel fortunate to be involved in a project that has a five-year timeline, because as exciting and monumental as this first installment was, it was only a first step that served as a learning experience for the trainers and organizers. The relationships we built in April will serve as a springboard for this project and will evolve into a real educational gem for Galapagos.

Brittany Lenhart is graduate student in International Education at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and participated in the Education for Sustainability in Galapagos Program as a Teachers2Teachers-International Intern. T2T-I is a US non-profit focused on providing high-quality, culturally-relevant professional development for teachers in different parts of the world. In addition to coordinating the mathematics component of the ESG Program, T2T-1 organizes teacher trips through which educators from various countries work alongside and exchange experiences with teachers in Galapagos.

Read part 4 in this series: Promoting Connections in a Place Where Nature is Wild.

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