Making Education Relevant in Samtse, Bhutan

Do you believe love marriages or arranged marriages last longer? While this does not sound like your typical Teton Science Schools question, it was one of the innovative lessons designed by Samtse College of Education lecturers during a professional training course in Bhutan last week.

Samtse College of Education is one of two undergraduate education colleges in Bhutan and serves 900 students, most of whom will become the country’s next teachers. We introduced the lecturers to place-based education with a day of design and a day of inquiry. On the design day, the group learned about kinetic and potential energy through the PhET technology program out of the University of Colorado. This simulation helped set the participants up for success in the inquiry project that followed. Their challenge was to determine if a gravity rope-way, often used as a sustainable method to carry goods down a mountain, would be feasible in Samtse. Participants constructed inclinometers, used trigonometry to calculate distance, and determined velocity along the proposed rope-way based on what they learned from the technology simulation. The combination of math, science, and social studies, and technology in this project demonstrated the power of inquiry. During the second day of the workshop, participants conducted macroinvertebrate studies to practice the scientific method, a core skill of place-based education. To extend their understanding from rivers to watersheds, we introduced participants to Google Earth, and they mapped the entire watershed.

Participants were then challenged to come up with model lessons designed to integrate place-based education into their teaching. Each lecturer also used the TSS educational framework to convert a lecture to a more student-focused, relevant curriculum. The lessons that resulted were wide-ranging, from designing campus solutions to waste management while teaching about degradable and non-degradable resources, to teaching supply and demand by examining local markets, to designing improved science classrooms as part of an undergraduate course on the environment. One particularly interesting lecture compared a Nigerian story about an arranged marriage with the classic story of Wuthering Heights. To engage students through a place-based lens, this lecturer had participants survey each other on love marriages versus arranged marriages, thus increasing relevancy, engagement, and learning.

Place-based education continues to grow in Bhutan. Our new work with the Samtse College of Education will further support relevancy, learning, and engagement for both teachers and students across the country. Perhaps we’ll even help increase Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness.

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