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LHS Korean Institute: FOSS Middle School

Ann Moriarty, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley, California
September 06, 2005 | Professional Development

Top image: The middle school teachers visited MIT Academy in Vallejo, California, and saw FOSS in action.

A teacher's dream...all students were completely engrossed, noses buried in their investigations into milkweed bug reproductive cycles. The buzz of voices in lively discussion echoed throughout the room. But we could not understand a word they said! Over the following weeks, the pattern continued, as the students grappled with broken electronic devices, explored rocks, and interpreted Dotcar data. At the end of four weeks, we still could not understand more than a few words. But it did not matter; the important concepts had been communicated, both from teachers to students and from students back to teachers.

Teacher and aquariums

The terrariums and aquariums from the populations and ecosystems course capture this teacher's attention.

From January 9 to February 4, 2005, a delegation of 22 middle school teachers and administrators from Seoul, South Korea, worked with the FOSS staff for a month-long introduction to the excitement of inquiry-based learning. They were accompanied by a group of elementary school teachers who participated in exploring GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science), another LHS-developed program. These teachers were part of the first cadre of educators from Seoul to participate in intensive professional development programs in the U.S. sponsored by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education. Lawrence Hall of Science was one of a select few university venues across the country to host educators during the first year of this five-year project. Dr. Sung Jae Pak and Dr. Eun Young Hurh, both scientists and science education professors at Seoul National University, worked closely with the teachers during the institutes. Their support would be invaluable in assisting the teachers in implementing the curriculum back in their classrooms.

The group soaked up the Berkeley atmosphere, staying in a local hotel near famous Telegraph Avenue. They divided their time between daily FOSS professional development seminars at the Lawrence Hall of Science, local school classroom visits, and exploratory field trips throughout California (e.g., Lake Tahoe and the Monterey Bay Aquarium). The ultimate goal of their visit was to learn about high-quality inservice training in the area of inquiry science—with emphasis on gifted and talented education—to improve their own teaching and science programs in Korea. In addition, the project helped facilitate a deeper understanding of how such a program is implemented into a culturally diverse region such as the San Francisco Bay Area.


These teachers set up a terrarium during the populations and ecosystems course.

Each day started with a traditional Korean greeting: Annyong haseyo! (Hello and welcome!) The FOSS instructors and Korean teachers then dove into an intense day of action, participating in the unfolding of curriculum, sharing anecdotes from the Korean teaching experience, as well as the North American experience, and dialoguing about science education in the two countries. We managed to pack seven different courses into the month: Populations and Ecosystems; Diversity of Life; Human Brain and Senses; Electronics; Force and Motion; Weather and Water; and Planetary Science. At the end of each day, the discussions continued out the door as the teachers left, saying Kam sah hamnida! (Thank you!)

During the FOSS professional development, interpreters joined us to facilitate the discussions. This sometimes led to amusing interchanges as the interpreters—excellent, but not necessarily proficient in science vocabulary—had difficulties. How do you say "population" in Korean? It turns out that there are two translations: one meaning "human population," and the other meaning specifically "populations in an ecosystem." Of course, the interpreters used the more common translations, but the Korean teachers had no qualms about correcting them. Our wonderful interpreters ended up learning as much as the teachers.

Teacher and aquariums

The teachers observe the simulated moon rocks from the Planetary Science course.

Participants began development of an action plan in which they considered their implementation needs and professional development for the Seoul teachers. They will continue collaboration with LHS, the Federation of Science Teachers in Korea, the Korea Association of Research in Science Teaching, and with U.S.-based groups such as the Association of Science- Technology Centers (ASTC), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA). Future efforts will focus on assessment, methodologies, and curriculum materials, as well as the development of a national curriculum for Korea.

The month-long "field trip" was an immense success. The Korean teachers returned to Seoul with renewed enthusiasm and excitement about using inquiry-based science and FOSS in their classrooms. And the FOSS staff came away with great respect for the intensity and integrity of the Korean teachers. Below are some comments the Korean teachers left with FOSS staff.

"Students always bring up their questions and think to solve the problem. Diverse teaching materials were used to bring up interests of students that make the science class more fun."

"The teacher's role of facilitating student understanding and guiding their experience was very impressive."

"The class process was innovative and in-depth teaching on each theme is good!"

"Teaching materials are so perfect that teachers can use them effectively and won't have to spend much time on the preparation. The CD-ROM was perfect in terms of the structure and content."