West St. Paul school to learn from Ghana group — and vice versa

First-grade students become acquainted with the tools in their "explorer backpacks" used in lessons led by Moreland Elementary principal Eric Bradley and other InSciEd Out program partners who visited Ghana this summer. (Submitted photo)

Moreland Elementary principal Eric Bradley prepares a team of first-grade students at the Light Academy in Ghana for a cheer. (Submitted photo)

During his trip to Ghana, Moreland Elementary principal Eric Bradley explored the fishing village of Elmina. As Bradley put it in his blog, "We arrived just in time to see the daily arrival of the fishing boats bringing in their catches, and the intense level of commercialism and exchange that occurs the moment the boats pull in." (Submitted photo)

Common ties found through health concerns

Last year, students at Moreland Elementary School in West St. Paul chose to explore the effect ingredients in Takis have on the mobility of zebra fish, exploring the health implications of the spicy corn munchies favored by youngsters.

"A food that I have never heard of before was being consumed by 100 percent of students," said Chistopher Pierret, the program coordinator of Integrative Science Education Outreach.

Called InSciEd Out for short, the Mayo Clinic program launched locally last year is expanding to Heritage E-Stem Magnet School this year. "These are third- and fourth-graders running science that's important to them," Pierret continued. "Will there be one less bag of Takis in their locker? I don't know, but I'm interested to find out."

Months later, Pierret and Moreland principal Eric Bradley helped bring the same inquiry-based approach to students in Ghana. The K-12 school was facing a similar issue as many Minnesota schools: the Light Academy in Accra, the African country's capital, provides a healthy breakfast and lunch for students, but struggles with the snack choices the kids make.

"Just outside of the school door there's a canteen that sells candy," Pierret said. "You'll find students lining up to buy the Ghanaian version of Takis."

Fostering a partnership 

That snack-food connection won't be the only one between the schools. During a weeklong trip this summer, InSciEd Out leaders continued fostering a partnership that tethers the Light Academy and local District 197 schools.

Bradley hopes the relationship will bring the West St.Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area school district partnership with the Mayo Clinic to another level. He says the classrooms on opposite sides of the world linked through Webcams, email and Google Docs, will learn from one another in science and culture.

"What I'm most excited about moving forward is working with the students we met there and connecting them with our teachers here in Minnesota," Bradley said. "A lot of the issues that our students are facing are not terribly different than the ones facing students in Ghana."

Focus on science

InSciEd Out started as a collaboration between Mayo, Winona State University and Rochester Public Schools. In spring 2013, Bradley heard InSciEd Out was expanding to Twin Cities schools, and he wanted Moreland to be the first model, especially if he could enhance the health-science aspect of the West St. Paul school's magnet theme. 

Ten Moreland teachers completed program training and started working with their classes during the past school year. 

This year, the program's expanding to Heritage, while integrating the partnership with the Ghana school. 

Earlier this summer, 10 Moreland teachers representing kindergarten through fourth grade and 10 fifth-grade teachers from Heritage completed the training.

Inquiry-based science

InSciEd Out teachers take part in a 12-day internship with program staff, being trained how to teach by being learners themselves.

They're encouraged to ask questions, and then conduct research to start answering them.

"It really puts the teacher in the role that they want the students to be in: trying to pose questions that are important to them, but may not have a clear answer," Bradley said. 

The teachers then take the method to the classroom, having the kids explore an issue that affects them. 

The program aims to have kids start seeing themselves as scientists. They ask meaningful questions, develop hypotheses and then test them with experiments. 

"The questions quickly become something that’s real to them vs. something that they read in a textbook," Bradley said.

Mayo and University of Minnesota scientists worked with the students.

"We found it fascinating for kids to ask questions they found important and the teachers and the scientists to say, 'I don't know' to that question," Pierret said. "They're used to adults 'knowing.' For an adult to openly say 'I don't know. Let's find out together,' we found that really enhanced the engagement ... and helped them feel like scientists. 

An international partnership

Bradley, Pierret and Rochester educators visited Ghana this summer for about a week, and felt welcomed by almost everyone they ran into.

"We stayed with the directors of the school and felt at home immediately," Bradley said. "Folks that we met at the market or the bus station were extremely friendly. Once they heard that we were working as educators — that piqued people's interest."

Bradley, who's traveled in Central America through the Peace Corps, said he encountered staggering levels of poverty, but also a striking vibrancy in the area cities, especially in the markets.

But the cultural experience was a bonus: Bradley was there to teach and to learn, establishing a partnership where his school and Light Academy educators could benefit from one another.

During the Ghana trip, Pierret assisted in a classroom with Bradley.

"I found myself lost midway through the first lesson," Pierret said. "I instantly transformed into an eager learner.

"As a learner, I was absolutely enthralled. I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings," Pierret added. "He was the living embodiment of a global teacher."

Next steps

Now Bradley says it's just about allowing the relationships between the teachers and the students to build, so they can support each other and grow together. 

In October, two Light Academy teachers will visit local schools.

"Their students are struggling with so many of the same questions about the world around them," Pierret said. "These deep and strong relationships — I think that was the most important thing of our trip."

Pierret said he hopes the continuing connection is part of the end goal of prompting new solutions to the world's problems, diverging from the "same voices running the same experiments."

"Relationships like this will help us build so many solutions that aren't evident to us today," he said. "What's the passion behind it? The health of the community: the local community and the global community. Ideas like water quality and vaccination are, in technical terms, such simple things. They're simple things that separate the living and the dead of our entire world." 

He added, "By partnering with scientists from around the world, we get more vision; we get new ideas. Growth happens."

That's why this is a collaboration, not an export of U.S. ideas, he explains.

"This isn't, 'Hey, we're working in Ghana so we can drop off best practice.' We're building something new with our partners."

Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and kroby@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.

Bradley's blog

To get a detailed account of principal Eric Bradley's trip, visit his blog at http://morelandandinsciedout.blogspot.com/.
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