I spent my final day at Bicol Regional Science High School shadowing Michelle, an 11th grade student. Michelle is in the first section of the 11th grade, which means that she and her classmates are in the top third of the class. She has the same classmates for every class throughout the day. With the exception of specialty courses like robotics, physical education, etc., her class will stay in the same classroom where their different teachers for different subjects will meet them. Here is the class with their math teacher Mam Diana. Michelle is the student seated right next to me:
The class only has 29 students--small for the Philippines where class sizes usually start at 40 and go up from there. You'll notice that only six of the 29 students are boys. This is because BRSHS's homogenous class sections are determined by class rank, and girls at BRSHS generally get higher grades than the boys.
The school day goes from 7:30 until 5:00 PM. Here is Michelle's schedule for the day:
7:30-7:45: Flag raising ceremony
11:00-12:00: English & Communication
1:00-3:00: Earth Science
The topic in precalculus was ellipses. Students had worked on a problem set over the weekend. Each student had to complete all 16 problems neatly in their notebook. In addition, students had been assigned one of the problems for which they were to prepare a poster explaining the solution. The class reviewed the homework via poster presentations. Michelle explained that the problem set had taken nearly all of the students nearly all of the weekend to complete, even with the help they gave each other by communicating with each other over Facebook Messenger. After the homework review/poster session was complete, the teacher brought out several large, plastic, roughly ellipsoid easter eggs. Each student group picked an egg and opened it to reveal a wooden block. Each egg had a different shaped block. Michelle and I got a right-isosceles-triangular prism. The challenge: treating the egg as an ellipsoid, calculate the volume of the largest block of the shape revealed that could fit within the egg. This is a pretty hard problem for a right-isosceles-triangular prism! The students dug in with excitement. Here they are midway through the task. You can see the wooden block on Michelle's desk:
Michelle led our group and solved the problem just before the end of the period.
During our break, Michelle took me to the canteen to buy a small snack. We each bought a package of three cookies--the regional version of Oreos--for 4 pesos (8 cents.)
Our next class was robotics, which took place in the computer lab. At this point in the year, the lessons were computer programming, rather than robotics. This is because the arduino-controlled robots they would work with later in the year would be programmed in C++. Michelle told me that, aside from having been taught HTML in 8th grade, this was their first real experience programming. They were learning how to define and perform simple operations with variables. Students either worked on the school computers, on their own laptops, or on their own Android phones running a C++ app.
After robotics was English class. Michelle has been learning English since she was a young child and, like her classmates, she speaks it fluently. Thus this course focused on subtleties of English communication, rather than grammar. The period was spent debriefing and reflecting on an activity held over the previous few classes. Students had, in groups and in secret, invented countries and their linguistic quirks and cultural norms. One country would speak in opposites ("I hate you" means "I like you"), another spoke in riddles. They had then spent a class period having a "party" where they had to discover and adapt to each other's cultural and linguistic practices. Today's class was a discussion of the challenges, miscommunications, and lessons that came to light during the experience. Since I had spent the previous two weeks attempting to discover and adapt to the culture of the Philippines, the teacher asked for me to share a few words. It was a timely class for me to sit in on!
Michelle was kind enough to let me shadow her during her lunch break. Some students bring their own lunch, some buy lunch at the school canteen, and some buy from nearby vendors off of school grounds. We bought food out of the back of a car that parks in the driveway in front of the school every day. Michelle said she buys her lunch from this vendor nearly every day.
Michelle and I both bought the pork meal. It was 45 pesos (90 cents.) The portion size was about half to one third that of a typical cafeteria lunch at Westwood High School. It was very good!
We ate lunch with several of Michelle's classmates in their classroom. Michelle's sister, a 10th grader, joined us as well. Her sister brought with her some chicken and cheese rolls that another student's mother had made to share with her friends. Really delicious.
Our afternoon classes started with Earth Science. The topic of the day: evidence of the big bang and an introduction to the formation of the solar system. The teacher led the class through a clear slide presentation that included a good discussion of scientific theory vs. law vs. hypothesis. Towards the end of the class student groups were tasked with giving a performance about the formation of the solar system. Some groups made songs, another wrote a poem. Michelle took the lead in our group and organized a "chain reaction" presentation in which each student would orally present one step of the theory. I must admit I helped my group "cheat" a bit by showing them my slides on the formation of planetary systems that I use when I teach the topic in my Astronomy class.
This was the second two-hour-long class I had attended during the day. One more (Physics) would follow. Not once did I see a single student leave the classroom to go to the bathroom or for any other reason. I think that if I taught two hour classes in Massachusetts, even with an active, hands-on lesson plan, every one of my students would leave to "go to the bathroom" (i.e. take a walk) at least once. Another observation of note: In every class I sat in on or taught throughout my week at BRSHS, the number of students in the class equaled the number on the roster. That is to say; every class I witnessed over five days seemed to have perfect attendance.
The final class of the day was Physics. Michelle's regular teacher was out that day, so I had been asked to present a class on cross products. I gave a lesson very similar to what I would teach at WHS. I told the students ahead of time that I would teach as identical a class as possible, so that they could get a sense of what a class in my school would be like. "The only difference," I said, "is that this classroom is *so* much hotter!" Students seemed engaged and I felt like they had a solid handle on how to determine the magnitude and direction of cross products by the end of the lesson. I also showed them how to apply cross products to calculations of magnetic force and to torque, two topics they had covered with less mathematical rigor when they were in 9th grade. Here are two of Michelle's classmates posing in front of my boardwork:
While I had been given a heads up the Friday before that I'd be teaching on cross products, I didn't know until right when the class started that it would be two hours instead of one. I decided to spend the second half of the class answering questions about education in the United States, life in Massachusetts, and any other questions they had. It was a really enjoyable class.
Throughout the day, I was blown away by Michelle's brilliance, work ethic, confidence, and attitude. Over the years at Westwood High School, I've taught and gotten to know many students who have gone on to do well at Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities. I have a sense of what it takes for a student make it to, survive, and then thrive at such a school. There is absolutely no question that Michelle would fit right in at MIT, Harvard, Stanford, or any other world-class school. The same is likely true of several of her classmates at BRSHS as well. These students are smart, hard-working, and hungry for knowledge and success. The world is on notice!
Sadly, the day ended, but not before a photo op with Michelle...
...receiving some amazing posted adorned with notes from students we had met throughout our time at BRSHS, presented to us by members of the student council...
...and sadly clocking out for the last time.
On our way back to the hotel we met up with some student council members at the local convince store. We hung out with them for a bit:
My time in Ligao City at Bicol Regional Science High School has been a truly amazing and tremendously informative once-in-a-lifetime experience. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Teachers for Global Classrooms program and staff, the faculty and students of Bicol Regional Science High School, our official host teacher Kristina and our other host teachers Noemie, Adrian, Agnes, and Rose, and to my beautiful and supportive (and 8.5-months-pregnant) wife for making this unforgettable experience possible.