Teachers back to the class

Pro-Science reviews traditional methods of teaching science

It was a long time ago, during high school days, however you most certainly have not forgotten the terrible sensation of uneasiness and despair: the teachers fills all the the blackboard space with mathematical formula; someone raises their arm and asks: “Teacher, what is all of this for?” and the reply “In the future, at university, you are going to know the why.” In order not to keep the student waiting for so long, the Program of Support for the Improvement of High School Teachers of Mathematics and Science was dreamt up, the Pró-Ciências [Pro-Science], fruit of an agreement on between  Capes –  (Coordination of Improvement of Higher Level Personnel) SEMTC (Medium and Technological Education Secretariat), the State Department of Education and FAPESP.

The project, coordinated by professor Marília Sposito, of the Education School of the  University of  São Paulo (USP), was kicked off  in 1996 and will carry out, from the 1st to the 3rd of June (at the Fuvest – the University Foundation for the College Entrance Exam, in rua Alvarenga, 1.945/51, Cidade Universitária), its 2nd Project Demonstration, presenting to the public the results of 52 pieces of research. “The Pro-Science wants to investigate new methodologies of teaching through of innovative projects which rethink teachers formation, improving their mastery of curriculum contents, through contact with the advances produced in the university area”,  explains Marília.

Invited through a public invitation from FAPESP, professors of large São Paulo universities sent in course proposals to a scientific committee. The approved contacted the education departments of their region and structured a program of lessons for their colleagues in the public schools network. Transformed into students, the teachers could then, through the presentation of new didactic techniques, re-evaluate how they taught their students.

“It was a good interaction between university and the community, bringing the scholars  into the daily routine of the public school teachers, with programs directed towards a replacement of scientific topics precariously absorbed by them  during their college days”, explains Marília Sposito. “For the university professor, on his part, it was a bath of realism since many of them had not evaluated the degree of difficulty their high school colleagues come up against in order to master the curriculum topics and even the very conditions of work”, completes the coordinator of Pro-Science.

One of the enthusiasts of the program Pro-Science is professor Fuad Daher Saad, of the Physics Institute of USP, coordinator of the project Demonstrations in Physics. “We need to take up a critical vision of teaching and only pass on to the students what makes sense, which is linked to reality and they may understand through effective experimentation and not simply with formulae written on a blackboard”, advises Saad. To do so, in his lessons, the physicist taught the teachers to use creativity and, with little money, to invent demonstrations of equations and concepts of physics.

With plastic soft drink bottles, straws, wire, used paper, glass etc., Saad developed experiment kits (described in folders for the teachers to repeat in the classroom) which demonstrated phenomena such as electricity, vacuum, vapor, magnetism and the concepts of light. “Only in this way can we awaken the interest in science in our youth and, at the same time, insert the university into the community, uniting the academic competence with the public schools network, a good exchange from both points of view”, he appraises.

Another defender of this interchange is Reiko Isuyama, of the Chemistry  Institute of USP, coordinator and researcher of the study  In Service Training of Chemistry Teachers within the High Schools, also part of the Pro-Science. “This puts us in contact with reality and we can help the teachers by demonstrating to them that the ability of memorizing formulae is something without meaning, since the importance in the teaching of science is to make it clear to the pupil that we must understand the reality which surrounds us”, he says. In his project, Reiko combats a cliché of long standing. “It is not necessary to have an expensive laboratory in order to understand chemistry, since it is an artificial environment: it is better to give to a pupil the capacity to observe the real, to analyze the big laboratory which is nature, without costs and of immense richness”, he defends.

Professor Maria do Carmo Calijuri, of the Department of Sanitation Hydraulics of the School of Engineering of São Carlos (USP), also went looking for solutions in the environment. Coordinator of the project Environment Education: the Hydrographic Basin as a Method of Approach and Teaching, a part of Pro-Science, Maria do Carmo took the teachers of the public schools to know at first hand ecological systems and different ecosystems so that, in the future, they can conduct experiments on the quality of water etc. in the field with their pupils. “They learned to position themselves as part of the environment and not as mere spectators, which touched their sensibilities towards the problem of the protection of ecosystems”, she tells. “Certainly this will be passed on to the young in a fundamental multiplying effect which proves the importance of bringing the community much closer to that which is being developed in our universities”, she states.

Positive response
“The evaluation which we have of the Program Pro-Science is very stimulating, if we take into account the positive response of the participating public school teachers and by the large number of requests which we have received to participate in new courses”, reports Marília Sposito. “However, I believe that it lacked boldness and to better think out the conception of new methods and the relationship between pupil and teacher, to the extend that we keep going back to the restoration of curriculum content, a task which monopolized a good deal of our efforts”, reflects the teacher. Another point which worried the coordinator is the restriction of projects to specific areas of the state of São Paulo.

“We don’t have total coverage and the offering of courses concentrated itself in regions near to the universities which offered the lessons, leaving aside many needy areas such as the Ribeira valley, very poorly assisted ”, she reveals. “For this reason,” cautions professor Marília “it is necessary that the Pro-Science program have the support for a new phase which will permit the program to see the needs of these regions and meet the demand for more courses.” In spite of the observations, the coordinator is optimistic about the results. “The repercussions in the public schools was most favorable, we effectively brought together university and community and the strong point was, without a doubt, the ingenuity  of the researchers in creating material and experiments adequate to the demands and needs of the teachers of the public high schools”, says the coordinator.

Marília also hopes for good results from the 2nd Demonstration of Projects of the Program Pro-Science. “It will allow, as in the previous edition, an intense exchange between the various researchers, permitting that they get to know each other better and demonstrate the best of their experiments, formalizing  the innovative character of the program.” she explained.