In March I was asked to plan and prepare for a nation-wide training on primary-level mathematics, grades 1 through 4. This request came through my position at the Ministry of Education’s curriculum unit. I went through the new primary curriculum we’ve created over the last 4 years, complete with lesson plans for each discipline, each day, and compiled the mathematics topics I know to be problematic. These included place value, data analysis, rounding, fractions, decimals, geometry, weights and measures, and estimation. I put together a plan for the week and wrote a little manual for the training.
Then I called all my mathematics teacher colleagues who could get away to give a lesson or two and we trained the trainers for a week at the National Teacher Training Institute in Dili. Our trainees, who would become trainers, consisted of top primary teachers who had been involved in previous trainings, and who were reportedly not afraid of mathematics. (Those who were afraid of mathematics got trained next door on the new 5th and 6th grade curriculum, all disciplines.)
It went well, with everyone having a good time doing pratika while they learned the basic concepts. My feeling was the same as I’ve had working with the junior high teachers: just giving them time and space and encouragement to work out exercises and solve problems was all it takes to ramp up their teaching capacity quite a bit. Confirming that they’re on the right track is invaluable for them.
Now the fun begins. Those ‘National Trainers’ are this week passing on what they’ve learned to directors, assistant directors and top mathematics teachers in all the municipalities of Timor-Leste. Those attending this week’s training will then return to their own schools and pass the material off – third time now! – to every teacher there.
The natural question is ‘How much is lost with three pass offs?’ Or perhaps, ‘Isn’t there a better way to do this, such that teachers can be trained directly by an expert, so that at least the teacher is given correct, clear information directly?’
Sure there is! But it’s too expensive! This trickle down technique requires much less travel and trainer time. Experts are also few and far between, and most of them are full-time teachers, so taking them out to train deprives their students of a teacher. This week is the single week of vacation between the first and second trimesters of the 2017 academic year, and it’s important to make full use of it. (There are usually two weeks with kids out of class, but this year the first week was Holy Week, spent preparing for Easter.)
The Ministry of Education also has a small video team, and I arranged a couple of SESIM teachers to teach nearly the entire training manual on film, which then goes by USB drives to each school, so that they can at least have a video expert on the spot. Of course, on video one is limited to lecture and demonstration, but we always invite the viewers to grab it themselves and try it themselves.
This sort of ongoing training will be necessary for years to come. I intend to continue working with the Ministry to find ways to increase the effectiveness of the trickle, and to do my best to inspire teachers with the intrinsic wonders of mathematics.