Virginia teacher to promote global education in Uganda
EXMORE, Va. (AP) — For Sandra Thornton’s students, access to learning is never a question of privilege.
The girls and boys in her Broadwater Academy classroom in Exmore don’t know what it’s like to not attend school because their day is largely spent walking to access water or doing household chores.
In April, the middle and upper school science teacher will be traveling 16,000 miles round trip to see where such educational setbacks do exist.
She and 10 other teachers from schools throughout the United States will spend two weeks in Uganda in central Africa.
Thornton will be taking part in this year’s “Teachers for Global Classrooms,” an exchange program offered through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
“I’m going there because I have expertise as a science teacher, but I’m going because I get to learn as well,” Thornton said inside her home during a recent snow day.
The exchange program offers middle and high school teachers the opportunity to promote global education in their classrooms and around the world.
It is one-year program comprised of an online professional development course, two Washington D.C.-based symposiums and the in-country experience.
Thornton, who actively seeks professional development opportunities, applied February of last year and was notified the following May that she was among 80 teachers who had been chosen out of hundreds of applicants.
She was later given the option to choose a region for the in-country portion of the program and decided to pick Africa because she had never been to the continent.
This past fall Thornton completed the graduate course that covered how to teach students “global competencies”— skills like recognizing other perspectives, communicating ideas and investigating the world around you.
“If we don’t address global competencies within our classrooms, we put our students at a disadvantage,” said Thornton. “Whether they are applying for UVA or a university in some other country, they are competing on a global level for that seat.”
The course required Thornton to develop globalized lesson plans for her Broadwater students.
In addition to teaching electricity and magnetism in her energy unit, the science teacher also covered fossil fuel use in other countries like China, where much U.S. coal and fossil fuels are used.
“A lot of times on the Shore, we’re bound very much by tradition and if you don’t know to dream; if you don’t know those opportunities are out there, then a lot of times you don’t have that frame of reference. ” Sandra Thornton By learning that pollution from China can travel to the United States, students made the connection that actions in their home country can affect other countries and vice versa.
Thornton’s classes also interacted with students at an international school in India when they participated in a global share project entitled, “Through the Lens.”
Students wrote about what a typical school day at Broadwater was like and depicted what they saw out their classroom window through art or photography.
After Thornton shared she would be traveling to Uganda, her classes began participating in her journey.
They started to follow her program blog, asked questions about the vaccinations their teacher would have to undergo and started general discussions about travel. “A lot of times on the Shore, we’re bound very much by tradition and if you don’t know to dream; if you don’t know those opportunities are out there, then a lot of times you don’t have that frame of reference,” Thornton said.
“So I hope by going on this trip they see that the world is out there and they can do anything they want to do,” she added.
When she arrives to Uganda’s capital Kampala, Thornton will be placed in the Old Kampala Senior Secondary School and will work alongside her host teacher, Joseph Kalisa.
She said she will be teaching science lessons to the middle and high school students, but it is more likely she and the class will be practice English, which is the language of their instruction.
Because Uganda is like other countries and teaches science by memorization, Thornton is interested to learn how their end-results approach compares to the process-oriented approach used in United States classrooms.
She also is curious to see how the classroom environment differs from her own.
“A lot of times they will have 70, 80 students in a classroom, but no behavioral problems; not out of turn talking,” said Thornton. “If a student presents a behavioral problem, they’re out of school and that’s it, so it will be interesting to see that.”
The Broadwater teacher said she is most looking forward to meeting people and experiencing life the way that Ugandans experience life.
Thornton is also excited to visit Uganda’s Great Rift Valley, where the oldest fossils of pre-humans and humans have been discovered.
Before she departs, Thornton will conduct research for a capstone project, the final requirement of the exchange program.
Her research will address the question, how do societal and family expectations influence educational opportunities for girls?
As part of the capstone project, she plans to see if the frequent occurrence of young U.S. girls steering away from STEM_science, technology, engineering and math_also plays out in Uganda.
Thornton said she will be wrapping up “Teachers for Global Classrooms” around August or September and will be presenting her research findings at the Virginia Association of Science Teachers conference this fall.
The science teacher has plans to pursue further professional developmental opportunities after her journey with the exchange program is all said and done.
“I’ve always loved to learn and I feel that if I don’t keep pushing it in learning, I can’t expect my students to push it,” she said.
Sandra Thornton will be in Uganda from April 6-20.
To read about her experiences in Africa, visit her blog at sandrathorntontgc.weebly.com