Reaching Beyond Borders: 2014 Mexico SPI

Having only traveled to Mexico previously on vacations, I was a bit nervous to arrive in the capital city last month to support the Mexico Strategic Planning Institute (SPI). Knowing I could only describe my Spanish as "no bueno," I felt anxious about spending 10 days in Mexico City with esteemed science teachers and education officials from seven states. However, what followed after SSEC Director of Professional Services Amy D'Amico, facilitator John Tully, and I touched down at Benito Juárez International Airport on December 4, 2014 was nothing short of a transformative experience.

Friday dawned bright and early as we made our way across the city to the offices of our host Innovación en la Enseñanza de la Ciencia A.C. (INNOVEC), or Innovation in Science Education to non-Spanish speakers. INNOVEC is a long-time partner of the SSEC and promotes strategies to improve the teaching of science, which includes supporting the implementation of our STC™ units at grades 1-6 in Mexico through professional development, assessment, and materials support. INNOVEC operates out of La Fundación México-Estados Unidos para la Ciencia (FUMEC) or the US - Mexico Foundation for Science.  

SSEC's Director of Professional Services Amy D'Amico
with faculty presenter Daniel Alcazar-Roman

Much like the SSEC's Professional Services division, INNOVEC is small but mighty. After a round of introductions Friday morning we settled in to work through the coming week's agenda with Claudia Robles, Raúl Ríos, Juan Carlos Andrade, Rosario Gutiérrez, Alberto Guzmán, and Catalina Everaert. To plan the National Workshop for Leadership Development and Strategic Planning in Science Education (Taller Nacional para el Desarrollo de Liderazgo y Planificación Estratégica para la Educación en Ciencias), INNOVEC tailored our traditional SPI to better suit Mexico's context.

To better contextualize each of the LASER elements, Claudia Robles and I spent time looking in depth at and modifying our session on Administrative and Community Support together. Through our conversations we discovered how many similarities exist in the obstacles to effecting change in the Mexican and American education systems. For example, in Mexico the emphasis during instructional time lies heavily with language and mathematics, as seen in the United States under the Common Core State Standards. What's more, the opportunities for inquiry science to be a great support to these disciplines go largely unrecognized. Mexico also experiences a high mobility among its teachers and administrators, as we do in many American states as well. This mobility adds an extra challenge to adequately maintaining training in inquiry teaching techniques when professional development can only occur outside of school hours. The list goes on but suffice it to say, we all agreed these similarities were eye-opening and worth making explicit during the institute.

While we spent a great deal of time preparing for the coming week, we had some adventures too when Juan Carlos took us to a book talk he was moderating with American author Sam Kean at the Benjamin Franklin Library. While I hadn't read any of Kean's work before, I have certainly added his books to my reading list after hearing him speak. In his latest work, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons, Kean explains brain function using anecdotes, historic case studies, and humorous analogies. His other books address DNA and the Periodic Table in similar fashion. As someone with a great appreciation for science concepts made accessible as explained by history, I very much look forward to Sam Kean's next book.

Our host Juan Carlos Andrade, Project Managerat INNOVEC with American author Sam Kean

But I digress. After much anticipation and preparation, Monday, December 8th arrived and the institute began! Representatives from seven Mexican states attended the week-long workshop, and I was immediately impressed by their commitment to broadening access to an inquiry science education for their students. In the United States, time is so hard to come by that leadership teams often find it hugely challenging to get their high-level administrators and key decision makers to spend a week away from school. While time is certainly an issue in Mexico as well, the commitment from those high-level authorities to be present and involved for the entire week was inspiring. What's more, an inherent culture of pride in one's work and sharing that with colleagues was particularly evident. Every SPI incorporates many opportunities to develop knowledge by sharing out and discussing with the group but I have never seen such enthusiasm to participate in the sharing of ideas and experiences.

Representatives of Tamaulipas pause while investigating a lesson from the STC™ unit Floating and Sinking.

In the end, this institute was a fantastic opportunity for me to see the LASER model in action beyond our borders and experience our SPI from the perspectives of participant and presenter. More importantly, however, it convened seven Mexican states at varying points of implementation to gain and share new tools for moving their work with inquiry science forward. We offer a huge thank you to INNOVEC and FUMEC for making this event and the SSEC's participation possible. Muchas gracias!

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About the Author

Katie Gainsback

As the Assistant Division Director of Professional Services at the SSEC, Katie coordinates events promoting inquiry-based learning and STEM education across the United States for science teachers, administrators, and community partners.