SARANAC LAKE - Saranac Lake High School physics teacher Chris Gosling says the three months he spent in Argentina through the federal Fulbright program will benefit his teaching career - and, in turn, his students - for years to come.
"It's definitely re-energized my teaching," Gosling told the Enterprise last week during an interview in his classroom. "I want to try different things, and I've seen how other people have done it, so now I have another set of experiences to draw from."
Gosling, who's in his seventh year as a teacher in Saranac Lake, was in San Luis, Argentina, from April 4 to July 5 as part of the Distinguished Fulbright Awards in Teaching Program. The program provides 18 to 20 U.S. teachers with the opportunity to travel abroad for three to six months. During their stay, they visit schools, help out in the classroom, provide professional development to other teachers, take graduate-level university courses and do a small-scale research project.
Saranac Lake High School physics teacher Chris Gosling, left, poses for a picture with Guillermo Lehne, a teacher at Santa Maria, a private school for girls in San Luis, Argentina during Gosling’s stay in the country earlier this year through the federal Fulbright program.
Gosling lived in a small apartment in San Luis, a city of roughly 150,000 people, during his stay. He said he visited six different schools, most of which were private.
"The teachers were all really welcoming," he said. "It depended on how open the teacher and the administration were, but they all let me come observe, they all let me work on my research project and give a questionnaire to their students. At one school, they let me team-teach, and if their teachers had a meeting or couldn't make class, they would let me teach the class on their own."
Gosling said the education system in Argentina is very different from that in the U.S. For one thing, physics is mandatory in Argentina, where here it's typically an elective. He also said the physics classes he visited met for longer periods than in the U.S., 90 to 100 minutes versus 40 minutes here, but only twice a week. Class sizes were also larger. The smallest class Gosling visited had 24 students, whereas his classes at the high school average 16 to 18 students.
Gosling also said teachers in Argentina are typically overworked and underpaid. He said he met one teacher who was teaching 14 different sections in five schools in one week.
"And when they say classroom, it's a room with a chalkboard, maybe some posters on the wall. If you're lucky you get chalk. If you want a computer, you had to sign up for the computer lab ahead of time, or you had to bring a computer from home."
Despite those challenges, Gosling said the level of instruction and student performance in physics is pretty high in Argentina.
"If I put my kids up against theirs, I wouldn't see a huge difference," he said, "maybe more of a focus on quantitative calculations than conceptual stuff, but they're about the same."
Gosling took several classes at Universidad Nacional de San Luis during his stay. He also had to complete a research project. Gosling chose to do follow-up research on a University of Colorado study that looked at the gender gap in learning science between male and female students. Specifically, the study found that the gap could be reduced by giving students a reflective writing exercise designed to improve their self-confidence.
"It didn't seem to affect the achievement of the males, but it did seem to affect the achievement of the females and brought it almost equal to that of the males," Gosling said. "For my research project, I wanted to try it at the secondary level, so I did this in Argentina."
The students took a pre-test in physics, filled out a questionnaire about their attitudes toward science and will take a post-test at the end of the school year. While Gosling is still waiting for the post-test data to come in, he said he has already discovered that the connection students have with their teachers is very important to how well they learn the material. He also noticed some differences between the all-girl schools that he visited and those with a mix of genders.
"One of the questions I gave included the statement, 'Males naturally tend to be better at math and physics than females. Do you agree or disagree?'" Gosling said. "In the girls' schools, there was open laughter when they got to that question. That sentiment was much stronger in the all-girls schools than it was in a mixed classroom."
Gosling will administer the same questionnaire to his physics students at the high school in the next few weeks. He said he's planning to incorporate some of the things he learned in Argentina into his classes.
"I was really happy and lucky to have a school district that would let me go," he said. "I think they recognized the positives of it especially for the students to have, since I have these experiences now I can share it with them."
The Fulbright program covered all Gosling's expenses including travel, living and food costs. He was granted an unpaid leave of absence from the school district to travel to Argentina.
"Our school board members, who endorsed this, felt he would make a great ambassador for our school district and this would be a positive experience for his students when he came back," said Superintendent Gerald Goldman.
Gosling blogged about his experiences in Argentina during the trip. To view the blog, ansarinoargentina.blogspot.com.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.