Julie Plante is an instructor at Vanier College and is currently the Coordinator of the Mathematics Department. At the time of this trip she was the Coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program that has been since discontinued.
I had the great pleasure of being asked to visit a newly admitted IBO school in Casablanca in order to help their team of Mathematics teachers. The original request was to witness a couple of lectures for comments and to help go through the criteria-based assessment of homework and examinations. We were two teachers involved : Lorraine Veillieux from Cegep François-Xavier Garneau covering Physics and myself.
Even though the age of students was similar to our Vanier students, their high level of discipline and concentration in class was surprising! The motivation of the students I saw was very high. The group was identified as the best in the school with a science-math profile.
The formalism and quality of lectures I saw was very good. The teaching focuses more on formal proof and following with precision the steps of the teacher. Nevertheless, after I quizzed a few students with comprehension questions, they convinced me they truly understood the concepts behind the proof illustrated by the teacher!
We had a good time comparing the questions asked in the examination established by the National Education Ministry and the questions asked in an IBO examination. Their national Mathematics exam is four hours long and asks very interesting proofs of group theory and linear algebra! There are four or five questions on that exam. The IBO Mathematics exam tends to have two two-hour papers and asks between ten to twenty questions per paper. We identified time management as one key difficulty students have to deal with since they are not used to or trained for this type of drill with quick questions.
Another key difficulty that we know very well here in Canada is the long-lasting debate over the use of a calculator during exams. Within a month, these Moroccan students will have to be ready for a four-hour long exam without a calculator and formula booklet and for two two-hour long exams with a calculator and formula booklet! The pedagogical challenges here are tremendous… And there are no silver bullets to develop these two different sets of skills. We want our students to always know more and have many skills but we only have a limited number of class hours and homework hours!
Interestingly, the school I visited takes care of children as young as four-year olds up to the last year before going to university in the same school building. We could hear little children’s voices and the sounds of their game continuously. I was astonished that the older students were able to focus on their teacher! They explained to me that… “It’s always been like that; there is nothing special to it”! The atmosphere of the school was very joyful, colorful and light; the notion of plays and games was in the air. I could not help noticing that their library and computer resources were very limited and I realized we are fortuante at Vanier to have the resources that we do.
I was also invited to watch their opening morning session at 8:00 am in the outside theater ( it is a warm country … *sigh* They have access to these facilities even in January!). Each day, one young children’s class is selected to present a theme that the teacher prepares the week before to the whole junior students’ population, This can be a play, readings or a history project researched by the class and the presentation lasts ten minutes. This prepares the children for public elocution, stress-management and good communication. I was amazed at the heart those little children put into this presentation.
On top of our daily sessions I visited the country, obviously! It is a charming country but not if you drive…! The Metropolitan and Décarie at five pm are a breeze compared to any of their roads! I was lucky; I was always driven to locations. Lorraine and I visited the monument where the tombs of kings are kept; we visited the capital, Rabbat, and we saw the palace where The King Mohammed VI lives. It was a bit too early to go to the beach in bathing suits but we walked on the side of the Atlantic and looked at it with delight. We even had a little walk in a huge shopping centre that got us depressed… We saw the same stores we know! Ah globalization… But their couscous and almond pastry are still the best and are quite unique!
By Julie Plante