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Day 4: Visiting the 5000-student BNSA High School

Our third full day in Manila started with a seminar on the background and structure of the Philippine education system, given by our in-country consultant (and full-time public school principal) Alix. These are interesting times in Philippine education as grades 11 and 12 have just been rolled out nationwide. Previously, the Philippines had been one of only three countries in the world not to have a K-12 system in place, the others being Djibouti and Angola. We learned about the motivations and logistics of the shift to K-12. I imagine future TGC fellows will learn about the impacts and outcomes. While the seminar was completely engrossing, I was really looking forward to the afternoon when we would be visiting our first school.

The Benigno "Ninoy" S. Aquino High School in Makati is the largest school in Manila, serving 5000 students across grades seven through ten. The school is housed in an impressive, four-story rectangular building about the size of a city block, surrounding a large open courtyard in the middle. We were welcomed by the principal, several department heads, and about a dozen students, who started our visit with some opening remarks, a song, the playing (and singing!) of both the Philippine and U.S. national anthems, and a question and answer session.

Here are some of the students I met:

Students are only wearing those name tags because the new school year began a week or two ago. Teachers have well over 200 students over the course of a day, so they need the help learning names. After a a few weeks the teachers know all the students and the name tags go away. I think I would need them to be worn all year!

Below me fielding a question from one of the students. The question I was asked: "We face a lot of pressure from our teachers and our parents, we have so much schoolwork to do that sometimes we can't sleep at night. If you were in my shoes what would you do to handle the stress?" This was a question that any one of my students at Westwood could have asked as well--a fact I was sure to share and incorporate into my answer.

Next we broke off to visit classrooms individually or in pairs. I went to check out a Physics class. I was truly blown away by the way the teacher was able deliver a hands-on lesson to forty students with a minimum amount of materials. The class was split into five groups of eight. Each group was given a unique task and provided with fifteen minutes to prepare a presentation. The groups/tasks were:

Group 1: Make a poster explaining Newton's 3rd Law

Group 2: Make a poster illustrating several examples of Newton's Third Law in action

Group 3: Create a performance about Newton's 3rd Law

Group 4: Build a balloon-powered car that demonstrates Newton's 3rd Law

Group 5: Watch a tutorial [that went into some further depth than the class had already covered] on tablets and prepare to report what they learned to the class

I felt it was a very effective way for the teacher to have all forty of her students actively engaged with their study of Newton's 3rd Law despite the limited amount of resources available. By having the students present to the class, students were able to share in what their classmates had done. Would it have been better to have enough materials for every group to build a balloon-powered car? Maybe. Is having one group build one and then demonstrate it to the class sufficient? Probably! Here are some photos and video:

Group 2 working on their illustrations:

Group 3 rehearsing their creative performance of Newton's 3rd Law. They picked an MC, wrote a song, and put together a few "skits," all in under fifteen minutes. I was beyond impressed by their enthusiasm, and the enthusiasm of the RNAHS students in general:

Group 5 getting set up to watch their tutorials. The tablets were generic Android tablets. Their teacher told me that the school had 50 tablets for each grade level, which works out to one tablet for every 25 students:

Group 4 gets their car to work! I absolutely love the reaction:

Angelo, my fellow fellow (see what I did there?), teaches aquaponics at his school in Hawaii, so we got a tour of the school's gardens after we were done with physics. The school had utilized what felt like every available space--including an alleyway on the side of the building--to grow everything from medicinal herbs to tilapia! They had even shoehorned in a shed for vermicomposting, which Angelo tells me is a way of using a mixture of worms to speed up the composting process. We were both impressed by the range and quantity of plants (and fish!) they were raising. Again, the school had refused to be hamstrung by limited resources and created something special. Here is a gallery of some of their garden projects, along with a few "bonus" photos of the school:

My visit to Benigno "Ninoy" S. Aquino High School was, simply put, *the* reason I applied for the Teachers for Global Classrooms fellowship and travelled literally halfway around the world. It was inspirational, educational, and thought provoking. This was a day I will never forget.

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