Japan Part 1 – Arrival!

This will be the first of a few posts to try and cover everything we managed to get to in Japan (it was a jam-packed itinerary!) and I’ll begin by introducing the gang. Our group comprised of 10 (including me), 8 teachers and two ASTA representatives: Vic Dobos (CEO) and Peter Turnbull (Vice President). We were a diverse group with representatives from nearly every state/territory across both Primary and Secondary levels: Alex Fowler (SA), Tanya Rihak (NSW), Andrew McGregor (SA), Nathan Curnow (WA), Shannan Fletcher (WA), Sandy Davey (QLD), Paula Taylor (ACT).

Wide awake and ready to go at Sydney Airport!

The flight from Sydney to Japan (9 hours) would sit in my middle range for length of flights. You definitely start to hit that stage where you still can’t believe you haven’t landed yet and you’ve managed to watch all the movies that were on your list. But it’s not soul destroying like a Sydney to Los Angeles (14 hours) where you can see other passengers on the brink of an existential crisis. Luckily our entire group was seated on one row so I had the pleasure of good company to keep me sane. In particularly, Andrew (a South Australian Primary Teacher) and I bonded over a similar taste in movies and attempting to beat high scores on some iPad games he had brought with him.

Our first breakfast together in Chiba.

After arrival and some transport we reached our first destination, Chiba! As we had arrived on a Saturday evening, we would not have the opportunity to visit a school until Monday and instead were visiting the Shinshoji Temple and the Narita Museum of Aeronautical Science. It was in the morning that we met with two of our Japanese guides/translators, Setsuko and Toshiko, who would be accompanying us for the majority of this trip. This was the first point at which we would engage with Japanese culture in full, and we were not disappointed in any way. From the very moment we first glimpsed the main entrance it was simply breathtaking.

One of the many homes we saw near Shinshoji Temple.


The Shinshoji Temple area was enormous!
Toshiko giving us the rundown of Shinshoji and where to meet.


The temple was founded over 1000 years ago and the oldest building on site, Komyodo, was built in 1701! Our tour guide took us through the majority of the site but it was enormous and would have taken most of a day to get through it. The entrance gate, So-mon, was particularly fascinating as it contained a number of features of importance. For example, the first two sculptures depicted two figures, one with a mouth open and the second with mouth closed. These respectively represent two verbalisations: “Ah” and “Un”. Together they form Ah-Un, a symbol representing the understanding of two people without the need for words. From what I could gather, this was a prevalent concept historically when Japan was considered a monoculture and had very limited interaction with the outside world.

The entrance gate to Shinshoji Temple, So-mon.

If that wasn’t enough to admire the craftsmanship and the meaning behind those figures, the gate also featured two more figures of similar size to ward off evil spirits and a full cast of beautiful carved zodiac spirits around the border. Seen to the left, they had even invented a list of Australian equivalent zodiacs! I was very pleased to see I’m a Komodo Dragon! We also had our first encounter with Japanese wildlife, a preying mantis – hanging out on a beautiful stone sculpture just watching the world.


The first courtyard just through So-mon.
Each of these stones apparently represent a donation to pay respect to the temple. They were transported across Japan to be erected at Shinshoji.
A three storey pagoda. They typically have an odd number of floors.
The main strip near Shinshoji Temple with a selection of restaurants and local stores.

After a delicious lunch, our next destination was the Narita Museum of Aeronautical Science. On arriving I saw my first example of mascot culture in its full glory – Narita has the most adorable mascot (seen to the right). I immediately bought a coin purse (to handle the millions of small coins you collect) shaped like the Narita mascot to show my tourist side. We were given a guided tour through the museum where they had some truly incredible displays. These included the front section of a Boeing 747, a cross section of the Boeing 747 with a Mini inside to show scale, and the largest moving model of a Boeing 747 that could be controlled by visitors (there was a loooooong line).

The Narita mascot. Bird? Plane? Why not both!
Front section of a Boeing 747.
The moving model, for scale compare it with the cross section below!
Cross section of a Boeing 747 with bonus life sized Mini!

The culmination of the tour however, was the most exciting where we got to see and operate three separate engines that have been used in a variety of planes. These included a 4-piston plane engine, a 7-piston star engine (typically used in blimps), and a jet engine (also used in some helicopters!). Of the three, the jet engine was by far the loudest and you could see the distortions in the air from the heat it was generating.

4-piston plane engine.
7-piston star engine for Blimps
Jet engine also used in Helicopters.

Finally, to round out an exhausting first day, we moved on to have a delicious dinner at a Korean BBQ restaurant! Having never experienced one before, it was very exciting to cook a huge selection of tidbits on the grill in the center of our table.

Thanks for reading this one! I initially had intended to bundle days 1 and 2 together but it was simply far too large! Over the next week I’ll put up bits and pieces as our sponsors – ASTA and Latitude Travel Group – managed to pack in three weeks-worth of activities into 8 days!

What are the differences between Australian and Japanese students?

 One of the most exciting prospects of this trip was the chance to explore and observe our counterpart Japanese classrooms. Even before entering a school there were some striking differences between the Japanese and Australian system. The Japanese education system consists of three separate school levels: Elementary (Grades 1 – 6); Junior High School (Grades 7 – 9); and High School (10 – 12). Of these, Elementary and Junior High School are compulsory whereas High School is optional and free! Surprisingly, around 90% of students will choose to continue from Junior High to High School! Today however, I’d like to explore some of the differences (or lack of!) between Japanese and Australian students.

The first school we visited was the Kotehashidai Junior High School within Chiba City. From the very outset, there was noticeable difference in the way the school ran. Each classroom we passed was full of students (up to 45 students to one teacher in some cases!) who were totally engaged with the tasks they were undertaking. We dropped into three classrooms in rapid succession – Japanese, Maths and English – each totally different in the activities being undertaken but all sharing a common theme. Total and utter engagement. I had previously had the misconception that education in Japan was strict and rigid but this was not the case at all! I observed a friendly rapport between students and teachers, students feeling comfortable to contribute and challenge concepts introduced in the classroom.

kotehashidai mathsA Mathematics class at Kotehashidai Junior High School

dai i chu mascot

The school mascot, Dai-I-Chu, designed to look similar to the Kanji for Dai.

After visiting several schools and having the opportunity to question teachers a bit more closely, I began to see the bigger picture and how their school environment itself lends towards a different culture. During classes, as mentioned earlier, the expectation is for students to be engaged and immersed in the activities being undertaken. This is prevalent from Elementary all the way through to High school, with little variation between the schools that we have visited. The lessons were shorter in length with short breaks between them and this is where I observed the similarities. All that discipline and engagement faded away to leave behind what our students in Australia also are – kids. The moment the breaks began I saw students enjoying themselves, laughing, sharing stories, and engaging with their teachers. To me, this leads me to the conclusion that students in Japan find it easier to compartmentalize different times of the day as when it was time for the next lesson to begin they were immediately settling down and ready to start.

mizuno class

Miss Mizuno’s Science class in an introductory Astronomy lesson.

mizuno astro

Miss Mizuno using software to display and explore constellations and space.

On the whole, there was a feeling that the school environment almost felt more like a home or a community. This was reinforced by some of the practices observed including students taking responsibility for cleaning classrooms and the school, giving the announcements to the school, having daily rotations for class leaders, and running the distribution of food for mealtimes. The role of the teacher itself seems two-fold – as with Australian teachers, they aim to facilitate education in the classroom and work to engage all students with interesting activities. But their second role was one that I feel Australia aims towards but doesn’t quite match (on a national level as there is of course a large amount of variation) – the extent to which they undertake pastoral care truly inspired me. Learning of stories where teachers would visit the homes of sick children to check in on them, or remain in their classrooms, despite having just taught a full lesson, and engage with the students in a much more personal way. There will of course be disadvantages to this system but I was very much given the impression that the teacher had a very close connection with each student in their class.

The opportunity that has been given to me through this experience will be an important one for me to develop and grow as an educator and I feel privileged to have experienced the richness of the Japanese education system.

If you haven’t already, you can find more regular updates on my Twitter and Instagram (both links above)!


ACSME 2017 Wrap-up

Well, time to get this ball rolling! For the past few days I have been in Melbourne attending the Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education (ACSME) and I wanted to share some of the experience and perhaps give a bit of insight to those who haven’t had the opportunity to attend events like these before. I know many of you are eager for Japan updates but I first had to arrive and get some interesting stories to tell! I used the lengthy flight from Sydney to Narita, Japan to get down some of my thoughts as I find these are the great times for reflection and planning (and for watching a multitude of movies!). But, onto the content!

Conferences are one of the most valuable professional development environments for educators available. They bring together like-minded individuals from within a research area, providing an environment to share ideas and stories for the community to continue growing. Recently I attended the Australian Conference for Science and Mathematics Education (ACSME) at Monash University, Melbourne (I should add, sponsored by Taroona High School!). ACSME in its current form is relatively young (formerly the UniServe Science Conference) having started in 2011.

ACSME in particular holds importance to me as it was the first opportunity I had to engage with a large number of peers in my field (chemistry education) when I first attended in 2013. While there are a large number of teaching-focused academics within the University of Tasmania, I was the sole postgraduate student undertaking research into chemistry education; a daunting challenge to undertake. When I attended ACSME I was fresh-faced, enthusiastic, and very nervous. To meet authors of the literature I had read, engage with students going through the same challenges I faced (we numbered 3 PhD students and 1 Honours student), and present my work to experts, was extraordinary.

Back to the present, this year was above and beyond my expectations (approx.. 190 attendees!). Whether from the break in attending conferences, or the altered perspective from finishing my PhD and starting teaching at a secondary school, it was an excellent time. From the very outset, we were presented with an inspiring opening from the recently appointed Dean of Science (Monash), Jordan Nash.

An inspiring teacher makes all the difference.

Simple, but words with incredible meaning for myself and no doubt most of you. I’m planning to explore some of the key topics or issues raised at ACSME this year in further blogs but as a teaser here are some of them!

  • The link – or lack of – between being a good teacher/presenter and being an educator
  • The struggle for students to engage with new or unfamiliar teaching approaches
  • The gap in the transition from secondary to tertiary education
  • Dealing with failure in science

Finally, Associate Dean of Teaching (Monash) Dr Chris Thompson, closed the conference with a powerful statement on the current and future state of science and mathematics education in the tertiary sector:

The lecture is dead, the focus is on employability post-degrees, reflection is the new black, and we must communicate with students to find their needs. 

I suppose the message I want to leave is one for fellow educators. These kinds of opportunities are gold mines for both newly qualified educators and long-time practitioners. I know I’ll be aiming to inspire some of my colleagues from Taroona High to aim for these experiences. If you would like further information on this particular conference please head to http://www.acds-tlcc.edu.au/events/acsme/.

Coming soon… Japan adventures for Days 1 and 2! #astajapan for those interested in following on Twitter or Instagram.

The first step is the hardest… At least I hope so!

My name is Reyne! I first became interested in Science at a young age largely through the influence of fantastic teachers (giving me my interest in teaching as a career). Through this path I continued my education completing a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry/Maths) with Honours in Chemistry Education, a Diploma of Education (Senior Years), and a PhD of Chemistry Education. I am passionate when it comes to teaching and learning, and relish the chance to undertake challenges like starting a blog!

This project is something I had been considering for some time. In the teaching world it is important to build and develop a portfolio; a collection of experiences and skills that you can offer to employers or students. Further, in writing this blog I am reflecting upon my experiences; a practice upheld by all lifelong learners. This will allow me both to grow as an educator and to continue to provide current and relevant education perspectives.

So, to the heart of the matter. What is this blog about? Initially, I’ll be using this space to share my experiences in the teaching and research world. These are both highly rewarding areas that are accessible to more people than you may think! This week I will be attending the Australian Conference for Science and Mathematics Education (ACSME) at Monash University, Melbourne. This conference holds a special place for me because when I first attended ACSME, in 2012, it was the first opportunity I had to engage with a large number of peers in my field of research. It had a profound impact on my approach to teaching and the values I now hold for creating an accessible environment for all people who wish to learn.

On the 30th of September I will be travelling to Tokyo, Japan. I have been fortunate to be chosen as one of the eight teachers taking part in the Australian Science Teachers Association (ASTA) Japan Science Teacher Exchange. During this trip, I will have the opportunity to engage with Japan’s science curriculum and to teach a lesson to a Grade 6 class (with the help of a translator!). I will also visit a number of important Japanese cultural and scientific icons. Stay tuned for more information on these two events!

I hope that this blog will reach a wide audience. I am aiming to share experiences that will appeal to students who have not had the opportunity to travel or visit alternative education institutes. In other posts I intend to offer perspectives or thoughts that will prompt discussion with others interested in these areas!

If this interests you or you would like to get in touch for discussion or collaborative opportunities, please feel free to contact me!

I’m active on Twitter (@reynepullen), Instagram (reynepullen) and am also available by email (reyne.pullen@gmail.com).

Looking forward, I’m aiming to release a post here on a monthly basis at minimum while maintaining more regular snapshots on Twitter and Instagram. Ideally I would love to grow and develop a wider network of peers and colleagues across the world connected by their passion for education.