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Going to School … In Singapore

Academy Partners with Singapore

On Sunday morning, one of George Wolfe’s visions was coming to life.

Wolfe, director of the Academy of Science, faculty members Jayne Fonash, Linda Gulden, Jennifer Andrews, Duke Writer, Jackie Curley, Faye Cascio, Diana Virgo and Dan Crowe, and George Washington University representatives Carolyn Parker and Terry Hufford traveled to from Baltimore, Md., to the Hwa Chong Institution in Singapore to further a partnership with Loudoun County Public Schools.

"We want to observe their classrooms, see what they’re doing right," Wolfe said.

When Wolfe first traveled to the county’s premiere high school in 2005, he was there to instruct teachers on how to incorporate inquiry-based learning into their curriculum. The idea behind inquiry-based learning is for teachers to present students with material and get them to ask questions they want to research to find the answers.

"We want our students to think, vent and create," Wolfe said. "We can learn a lot from them, too."

WOLFE’S VISION BECAME a reality in March, when math and science teachers Ang Lai Chiang, Har Hui Peng and Ng Siew Hoon traveled from Singapore to Loudoun County Public Schools to observe Academy of Science classrooms and teaching methods.

"Their students score top in the world in math and science," Wolfe said. "So what were they doing here? They are great test takers, but they lack innovation, which goes back to why I was there in the first place."

The institution, Wolfe said, realizes the importance of innovation, or thinking outside of the box, and is interested in the inquiry process.

"We teach science very differently," he said. "We want students to ask the questions."

AFTER THE TEACHERS visited Loudoun County Public Schools, Wolfe approached them with the idea of a partnership between the two schools.

"Imagine what it would be like for our high-school students to collaborate with students in Singapore, to present an international research project," Wolfe said. "That would be like … wow!"

Once the Hwa Chong Institution was on board, Wolfe and his team applied for a grant through the National Science Foundation to fund future programs. The National Science Foundation does not fund high-school programs, so the Academy of Science teamed up with George Washington University in hopes to enrich its math and science teacher education programs.

In late June, the foundation awarded Wolfe a $49,000 grant to fund a workshop in Singapore to set up the final project. So Wolfe booked the tickets for himself and his colleagues to travel to the institution to collaborate on ideas for future projects.

DURING THEIR one-week stay, Wolfe, his faculty and staff from George Washington University will observe Hwa Chong Institution’s math and science classes and attend meetings with faculty members there to discuss the future of the partnership.

The team plans to go to the institution to answer the question, "What can we bring back from Singapore to benefit Loudoun County Public Schools?"

One thing, Wolfe said, is the research component to their classrooms. Wolfe wants to take it to the next level and have Academy of Science students' work on research projects with students from Singapore.

"Our goal is to produce globally thinking scientists on both sides of the ocean," he said.

Fonash, guidance director at the academy, said she is interested in forming an exchange program between the two schools.

"Travel is the most wonderful opportunity there is," she said. "We want our students to begin to see how small the world is. It broadens their sense of opportunities they have as scientists."

Although they don’t have an exchange program in the works yet, Wolfe is accepting applications from juniors at the academy, to come up with research topics to further explore with students from the Hwa Chong Institution via the Internet, over the course of next year.

"Even if we don’t have students going over there, we will still collaborate electronically," he said. "This collaboration can only be a good thing. Anytime you expand your horizons, you grow."