High school teachers get hands-on training at EPFL

Bernhard Britsch, Silvia Müller and Waldemar Feller. © 2016 EPFL / Alain Herzog

Bernhard Britsch, Silvia Müller and Waldemar Feller. © 2016 EPFL / Alain Herzog

Five teachers worked one day a week at EPFL during the winter term as part of a pilot project of the Education Department of the Canton of Valais and a partnership with Wohlen high school.

The purpose of the training program, which was developed and run by EPFL's Study Programs Promotion Services, was to provide the teachers with insights they can use to help ease their students’ transition from high school to EPFL. “Our aim is to get a clearer idea of EPFL’s requirements of our graduates and, if necessary, change how we teach,” said Stéphane Dayer, the representative of Ecole-Economie, a joint initiative of the Valais Departments of Education and Economy.

The teachers taking part in this pilot project met on Friday, 29 January at EPFL to share their thoughts. Silvia Müller, who teaches biology and chemistry at the Abbaye de St-Maurice high school, worked as an assistant in a biology review course at EPFL. “I wanted to understand why some of my students were failing at EPFL. I realized the problem went beyond possible gaps in their knowledge,” she said. “EPFL is a wake-up call for students who are used to being coddled, and who never had to take good notes or study hard.” Drawing on this experience, she came up with a way to help her students prepare, including an ‘EPFL-style lesson’. “This exercise led to a very useful discussion on what was going to be expected of them,” she added.

Learning the scientific method
Patrick Poscio teaches physics at Creusets high school in Sion. He used his time at EPFL to work on students’ methodological gaps, together with Jean-Marie Fürbringer, an instructor in EPFL's physics section. “We developed an analytical grid that students can use to apply the scientific method to every problem,” said Poscio. The problem is clear: students are not suffering from holes in their learning but rather shortcomings in their methodology. These observations will be useful for the two teachers, both in the high school and at EPFL. “This collaborative approach is very helpful in understanding the difficulties our students face, and I hope this training program grows and expands,” said Fürbringer.

Bernhard Britsch, who teaches computer science and economics at Brig high school, worked in the EPFL lab that is developing the Thymio educational robots. “I was able to make a concrete connection with high-school teaching and come up with possible learning scenarios,” he said. Waldemar Feller, a teacher at Wohlen high school in Aargau, worked as an assistant in a physics course at EPFL. “I teach physics and math, and this experience showed me which parts of my courses needed to be emphasized, such as vectors. I also realized how important it was for students to get down to work from day one at EPFL, since they won’t be able to catch up later.”

EPFL was very pleased with this pilot project. “It’s a small effort but with a remarkable impact,” said Hans-Jörg Ruppen, who is in charge of the Special Mathematics Course. His view is shared by Jean-Philippe Ansermet, the director of education in the physics section, who believes that the link with high school teachers is crucial for EPFL. “This program is really an exchange, it’s not a one-way professional training course.”

The participants’ only regret was that the program was too short. Such things can be addressed the next time around, when teachers from other cantons may also take part.

Author: Sarah Bourquenoud

Source: EPFL