Photographs: Copenhagen International School
Text: Marie Rocher
Hormones, homework, and humdrum teachers…That’s the sum of what many of us remember from high school. Can we offer our own children a more valuable education? Absolutely, say high school teachers Tammy Debets and Lorenz Hindrichsen…
A recent poll by CIVIC in the USA revealed that nearly three quarters of that country’s high schoolers are both stressed and bored, and pointed to the fact that students of this age long for a climate that engages, inspires and connects them with their interests. *
That resonates strongly with both Debets and Hindrichsen, teachers at the Copenhagen International School (CIS), which offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme.
Explains Debets, the IB allows teachers to offer students more than rote learning: “When I started teaching Maths in the state system, I was teaching mainly computation. The syllabus is tight, and if a child falls behind, you must make time outside of the class to help bring them up. Also, I had students whose scores were fabulous, but they didn’t really ‘get it’. In the IB, we’re looking at it more holistically. We’re looking at computation, but we’re also looking at conceptual understanding, real world application and communication.”
The science of learning
How do you get to teaching that conceptual understanding? Debets eyes light up when she talks about the strides made in recent years at understanding how children learn: “Research into Maths and language acquisition has exploded in the last ten to fifteen years, especially due to advances in technology”. Using this sort of research, she says, we can develop more effective teaching methods that facilitate the acquisition of numeracy and language skills – for instance by bringing in more visual, tactile, and contextual learning experiences. “The way we teach needs to adapt, and this is why our teaching guides at CIS are redeveloped every seven years, based on the latest research.” “In fact,” she adds, “our Maths and language guides are now revised every four years, such is the rapid research development in these subject areas.”
The context of learning
Teaching at CIS is teaching students to become critical thinkers – it’s not enough to know the formula, you must understand where it came from, how it works and then how to apply it. “Life is messy,” explains Debets, “it doesn’t come to you with a neatly written programme or problem and asks please solve this. You have to figure out the Math!”.
She points out the similarities in the Humanities, where building critical thinking skills in a contextual way is paramount. “If you have nineteen different passports in one class, whose history do you teach, and according to whose perspective? Rather, we must teach children to look at issues and questions from multiple perspectives, and to wear the shoes of other people.”
"We must teach children to look at issues and questions from multiple perspectives, and to wear the shoes of other people." - Tammy Debets, High School Teacher
Hindrichsen, a Swiss-born English teacher, takes an opportunity to point to his personal experience in working in a multi-national, multicultural classroom, where that experience has helped him observe how different cultures see the world: “Exposure to different perspectives can be eye-opening and inspiring!” He references the events of this past summer, and how an important sociocultural shift is being accommodated in CIS’ cultural studies programme: “Our students want to see action,” says Hindrichsen, with the formation of a Racial and Social Justice Union challenging teachers to ‘try harder and be better’, for instance in their selection of literature and other texts which are more inclusive. In this way, teachers and students are working together to provide an education experience that is relevant, enriching and rewarding.
The freedom of learning
Young adults value freedom; and CIS offers a more liberating school environment – for instance, students are free to choose a ‘personal project’ in an area that interests them and that can be outside of their normal field of study. Similarly, teachers are free to participate in defining curricula. However, as in life, at CIS there are no free passes! While teachers need to keep on top of their game – remain fresh, relevant, entertaining and interesting, as Hindrichsen puts it – when it comes to sitting exams and completing tasks like extended essays, for students there are ‘rigorous requirements’. “Students need to know their stuff,’emphasises Hindrichsen, “This really sets you up for university!”
Encouraging deep thinking, an analytical mindset, confidence, the ability to articulate ideas and to think in trans-disciplinary ways is what sets CIS apart. And acquiring these skills are what sets CIS graduates free – as they use them to establish a meaningful, productive life outside of school and home.
Says Debets, it’s connecting with past students who’ve gone on to build careers in both traditional and non-traditional fields that best demonstrates the outcomes: “That’s what I love about IB!”.