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How to Innovate

To innovate, teacher listens to his students and competes for US$ 1 million prize

Finalist of the Global Teacher Prize, Wemerson da Silva Nogueira tells how he transformed teaching science with projects inside and outside school

by Wemerson da Silva Nogueira 12/22/2016

When I became a science teacher, I noticed that students had certain reservations about the subject. In 2012, after starting work at the Escola Lourdes Scardini, in Nova Venécia (in the state of Espirito Santo), I noticed that they didn’t embrace their studies with energy, interest or a desire to learn. I also worked at EMEF Bairro Altoe, which was situated in the outskirts of the city, and saw that the pupils didn’t enjoy being in the school environment. As well as a lack of interest, domestic violence, drugs trafficking and criminality were factors that demotivated lots of students from treating education as their main objective.

I started to think about how I could transform the lives of my students, using the classroom as a space to innovate and improve learning. The first strategy was to try to show them that they are protagonists in a brighter future. From there, the idea emerged that we could use nature as a teaching tool. As they really enjoyed getting out of the school environment, I started preparing practical classes that involved going beyond the school walls. To learn about water, we visited a treatment station. If we were going to study vegetation, we’d go to a forest or wood.

Straight away, I knew that we’d have good results, but they wanted more. Just getting out of school didn’t really mean anything. That was when I decided to create our first project, which we called “Young Scientists: Planning a New Future.” And what was the future of education? Giving a voice to the students to build a new curriculum and teaching plan together.

Wemerson da Silva Nogueira alongside students from EEEFM Antônio dos Santos Neves

At the beginning of the school year, I put the teaching plan on the board and asked my students to tell me what and how they would like to learn. They started making suggestions, like learning about the periodic table with experiments. I wrote everything down and also made suggestions, such as making a fruit salad or creating a market place to study food and nutrition.

After we’d put all this on the board, the students sat and debated what was practical. When I did this, we began to develop projects within the school. We created partnerships with the community and built a science lab. Even without huge resources, we had a space to do our experiments.

To involve the community in the school, we also started to organize social projects. During science classes, the students visited homes nearby to inform people about dengue fever or invite residents to participate in a seminar at the school. I remember that in October 2012 we held a science fair, where the students carried out experiments at their stalls and gave presentations to children in the community. When the presentation ended, they would deliver a toy they had collected for the project.

In practical classes, the class would leave the school to explore different spaces

Since 2012, I have spent three years developing this project in several municipal and state schools where I’ve worked. The activities always aim to give a voice to students and involve the community in the school. In the second year, we started to influence teachers of other subjects, who realized that this approach generates positive results. When we finished the “Young Scientists” project, we noticed improvements in student behavior, greater approximation with the community, a reduction in family non-participation and even an improvement in the Ideb (Basic Education Development Index) of the schools.

In 2014, I started working with chemistry in high school and had to deal with the challenge of demystifying the subject. The students looked at it negatively. While I was teaching, they spent all their time singing funk, samba, pagode, axé and music from outside Brazil. That’s when I asked them what they thought about learning about chemistry with music. I taught the theoretical content for about 20 minutes, and for the other 40 minutes we revised the material by creating a funny song and singing. We brought a piano, guitar, tambourine and rattle to the classroom. It was chaotic, but the students learned. They even stopped failing their chemistry tests.

The year after that, I started working with technology in the classroom. I started using the Sedu (State Education Secretary) Currículo Interativo (Interactive Curriculum) platform (a customized version of the Escola Digital or Digital School platform), which brings together digital learning tools. The platform has strengthened learning inside and outside the school, allowing the development of dynamic activities that are more connected with the language of the students. There was even a student who developed an application on his cell phone to study the subject.

In 2016, I wanted to think of another strategy to transform teaching. After the biggest environmental tragedy ever to affect Brazil, the contamination of the Rio Doce following the rupture of the Samarco mining company dam, I brought scientific research to the classrooms of EEEFM Antônio dos Santos Neves, in Boa Esperança, in the state of Espírito Santo.

Students collect samples to analyze the water of the Rio Doce

We studied the periodic table using earth and learned in a fun, scientific and socially engaging way. The students analyzed the water contaminated with heavy metals and created a periodic portfolio, which gathered together all the information of each element. Through this way of studying, we were also able to contribute to affected communities. My students created a mineral retention filter capable of cleaning water and making it transparent for domestic and agricultural use.

Do you know what was essential for all these projects to work? Being an apprentice, along with my students. I needed to be humble enough to learn from them. I could impose myself and deliver everything to them ready made, but I would not be being an innovative teacher. Listening to the students and sharing information was critical. If I did not give them a voice, I would not have had the ideas to develop projects, which has even earned me prizes. I have already won a national award in Brazil and eight regional awards in Espírito Santo. Now I am one of the 50 finalists of the Global Teacher Prize [considered the Nobel Prize for education].

If I had to give tips on how to innovate in science teaching, I would tell teachers that you have to create meaning for students. We can use the resources we have in our schools as a tool for transformation. None of the projects I carried out had any financial resources. We have to learn from our students and understand that we don’t possess all the knowledge. We teachers are also students, and we are constantly learning

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Wemerson da Silva Nogueira is a science teacher and a specialist in education, he has worked in primary education for five years. Highly passionate in the classroom, he has made this space a tool to transform the reality of the world around him by helping to construct the identity of his students. Recently, he won one of the most important awards in Brazil, the Educator of the Year prize, part of the Educador Nota 10 (Grade A Educator) award of the “Filtering the Tears of the Rio Doce” project. He is now among the 50 best teachers in the world as a finalist of the 2017 Global Teacher Prize, considered the Nobel Prize for education, and if he wins, could receive a US$ 1 million prize.

* Translated by James Young

TAGS

community-based learning, hands-on, prizes, project-based learning, social problems solving, stem, technology