After several months of organizing from afar, I have successfully observed more than 50 full classes of mathematics in New Zealand state secondary schools! It is pretty incredible to communicate remotely with dozens of principals, deans, math department heads, etc. and then actually meet them at the very schools whose websites I have been eyeing this whole year. I loved feeling like a business woman living in a house full of teenagers, getting up and out of the various hostels before 7 AM, my bag filled with colored pens, detailed rubrics of factors to look for in each class and lunch already packed for later. After the first few visits, I settled into a commuting routine, though each day brought the excitement of a brand new school and every couple of weeks even a new city, from Christchurch to Wellington to Auckland! All that to say, there is nothing as productive or thrilling as showing up in person.
With the help of many wonderful faculty members, I was able to collect data on class time organization, conceptual explanations, utilization of daily examples, teacher reinforcement, student input, choice of activities, influence of standardized exams and so much more. In the photo, you can see the nicely decorated windows of a particularly fun Wellington classroom. Since my gathering data stage has officially finished, I have had time to compile the quantitative aspects into a useful Excel file, perfect for further analyzing. It is immensely gratifying to transform my more than a hundred pages of notes and tally marks into a digital table; I love translating the many hours of class time into averages, ranges and percentages. The raw data has a clear power in its own right, but drawing out larger themes is absolutely what I have been waiting for. Certain similarities showed themselves as I sat in on more and more classes, but other connections are harder to parse out until you have all the data in one place. I am extremely excited to continue working with these figures in the coming days and throughout this semester as part of our BISP meetings.
As of now, the New Zealand portion of this research has wrapped up and what an amazing experience it was! Unfortunately, I will not again see most of the fantastic teachers who welcomed me into their classrooms. However, I of course plan to stay in touch: their perspectives and insights add so much to the numbers. Plus, at the end of each school day, I made a point to invite any faculty or students to visit me at Brown: “if you make it to the Northeast of the US,” I told them, “I will gladly find you!” Some seemed hesitant about the distance, but many more were eager to explore. A ninth-grade boy in one class came over after I introduced myself: “Brown’s in Providence, right? I’ve been reading about America forever… I’m going to make it there!” With New Zealanders’ keen sense of adventure, it is not hard to imagine some of our paths crossing once more.