Japanese educators in search of teaching techniques that spark interest, engage students and promote a more interactive learning environment found innovative solutions during a recent visit to Massapequa High School.
Visitors Dr. Tomohito Harada of Hyogo University of Teacher Education and Madahiro Nii of the Japanese National Institute for Education Policy Research, who are part of a multi-nation project that examines world history and social studies education in the United States and other countries, maintain that while students in Japan typically do well on standardized tests, teaching methods there consist of lectures and little student interaction.
The educators, who were hosted by Hofstra University Social studies educator Alan Singer, came to Massapequa upon their request to see a typical middle-class district. Singer, who has a long-standing relationship with the district, “immediately thought of Massapequa,” said Brian Dowd, Massapequa School District’s curriculum associate for social studies, K-12.
“Mr. Singer regularly sends student teachers to be trained here because of the instruction they receive on how to be innovative in their approach and on how to reach students and help them become successful,” said Dowd. “Massapequa has a great reputation in the social studies community on Long Island. Our teachers are known for being innovative and on target with what they need to do to make our students successful.”
During their visit, Harada and Nii, along with Singer and a translator, met with Dowd and social studies teacher Dana Robbins. Robbins was named an Outstanding High School Social Studies Teacher of the Year by the Long Island Council for Social Studies and a Gilder-Lehrman New York State History Teacher of the Year for her use of interactive teaching methods, which range from having her students dress as historical figures and debating from the character’s point of view to having them create videos featuring their perspective on historical events. Robbins told Harada and Nii that she attributes her success with student engagement to being exceptionally organized and developing specifically structured lessons that incorporate a variety of motivating techniques.
“It’s also important to be approachable to all students so they feel comfortable asking questions and to be empathetic to their needs,” she said.
During a classroom observation, which took place on Sept. 11, Robbins discussed how the terrorist attacks unified the United States and increased a sense of nationalism, and then segued into how nationalism promoted unity during the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War. Clustering them into small groups, she asked her students to analyze documents ranging from a quote, a cartoon and a paragraph, and knowing her students were only three years old at the time of the attacks, she made the lesson more relatable by explaining her own experiences on 9/11 and how they connected to the community and the environment in which we live, spurring dialogue among students. Robbins also provided the visitors with information about different engaging projects and grading rubrics at their request.
Harada and Nii expressed to Dowd how impressed they were with the neatness and cleanliness of the building, how polite the students were and how innovative Robbins was in her classroom. When asked if she was unique in her approach, Dowd said that Robbins’ demonstration, while impressive, was “representative of the level of instruction students receive in the area of Social studies at Massapequa High School.”